Creek Deemed Dirty

At a meeting Wednesday, a state water board added San Antonio Creek to its list of 'impaired' water bodies.

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The board charged with overseeing the water quality in much of the San Francisco Bay Area unanimously approved a plan requiring local businesses, residents and government agencies to reduce the amount of fecal bacteria they put into the Petaluma River watershed, including San Antonio Creek.

At a meeting in Oakland on Wednesday, members of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board voted unanimously to implement the plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load [TMDL].

As the Pacific Sun reported last week, the main stem Petaluma River has been considered ‘impaired’ due to excessive amounts of fecal bacteria since 1975.  Due to the boards decision today, San Antonio Creek, which runs along the border between Marin and Sonoma counties, is now formally considered ‘impaired,’ a federal designation that requires a state government to create a plan to clean up the water body. [Crappy Creek, Nov. 6]

In tests conducted between 2015 and 2018, water board scientists found bacteria tied to humans, horses, cows and dogs throughout the Petaluma River and its tributaries.

“The testing we did as part of this TMDL development showed that the bacteria levels in all tributaries, including San Antonio Creek, were well above the impairment threshold level,” Farhad Ghodrati, an environmental scientist working for the water board, told the Pacific Sun.

While it is undeniable that river is polluted, letters submitted to the water board highlighted differing opinions about the water board’s plan.

In a letter to the water board, staff from San Francisco Baykeeper, an environmental nonprofit, stated that the board’s proposal “broadly represents a status quo approach with little to no consequence for non-compliance.” Baykeeper’s letter criticizes the water board’s plan for failing to identify how much different bacteria sources are contributing to the river’s problems.

Without identifying which sources are most prevalent it will be difficult for the water board to prioritize which problem to tackle first, Ben Eichenberg, a staff attorney with Baykeeper, told the board Wednesday.

“The (current plan) simply says ‘everything is the problem,’” Eichenberg said.

In a written response to Baykeeper’s letter, water board staff repeatedly state that they “disagree” with the environmental group’s assessment of their plan. Baykeeper’s Eichenberg told the board Wednesday that the board’s response had not solved Baykeeper’s concerns about the TMDL plan.

The board instructed staff to continue sharing water test data with Baykeeper and other concerned groups but did not amend the plan before approving it.

In comment letters, several North Bay groups, including the North Bay Realtors Association and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, pushed in the other direction, asking the board to extend the amount of time the board allows various groups to comply with new rules.

“We agree there needs to be a way to monitor and improve water quality in the Petaluma River; however, the imposed action steps enacted to get to a level of acceptable water quality needs to be affordable, unencumbered by regulatory overreach and fair to all local agencies and property owners involved,” Jeff Carlton, president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, wrote to the board on September 2.

In a separate letter, the North Bay Association of Realtors suggested that the board increase the time for compliance for homeowners with septic systems from ten to 15 years. The realtors group also suggested delaying the compliance requirement until a public source of funding for upgrades and test is available to homeowners.

In their response, water board staff noted that they had extended the compliance timeline from ten to 12 years. While no public funding for septic tank inspections currently exists, water board staff say they are “exploring options for offering financial support to low-income property owners.”

Water board staff will test the bacteria levels across the entire Petaluma River Watershed once every five years to determine whether levels of bacteria have been sufficiently lowered. Local government agencies charged with making changes will test parts of the watershed more frequently, according to water board staff.

More information about the Petaluma River Bacteria TMDL is available here.

1 COMMENT

  1. Update to the high levels of E’coli… Over a year ago i had complained to the City of Petaluma and its previous Harbormaster” before that. I have whitnessed liveaboards blow there waste out the sides of there boats. I have whitnessed people toss buckets full of human waste like it was the thing to do. I have made reports to the new harbormaster and even all the way up to the mayor. And everyone in between. I met a gentleman feom the state water board that came and tested the water in the marina. The levels were high. The highest being at the marina entrance. He didnt understand why. Nor did I. Then all this negative publicity came out.

    The Bay Keepers are correct in saying that this whole plan isnt effective.. I wrote to them and explained. The very next day after over a year of trying to get someone to enforce the obvious.. I call it The City of Petaluma’s continious alloud sewage issue is getting put to rest.

    After finding out the pumpout station at the marina was pumping directly into the river and that may be why the E’coli levels are so high at the mouth of the marina. The pumpout station is located at the mouth of the marina as well. But after all of this time and effort the state water board got a hold of me and the next day an inspector came and put an out of order sign on the pumpout station.

    It is the marinas responsability to ensure the vessels are using the pumpout station and not dumoing discharge in the river. If there are a total of 16 people living on the boats in the marina and only 2 boats use the pumpout station and none of the people use the restrooms the only logical explanation would be…

    Why have all these rules and regulations if nothing is enforced. The part that really sucks is the people that are environmentally conscious and respect our waters get punished because of this.

    Besides all the unlawful acts that I have had to be a part of during this crusade to stop the continious allowed sewage i think without pollution in the river a lot of the moneys that these organization accept would dissapear. For istance. The pumpout station at the marina. Ita broke so now they can accept the grant money that is available for pumpout stations that are broke.. I have no other explaination why the newly elected mayor who claims to be an environmentalist would do nothing about this issue. Its really sad.

    But this is the turning point for the Petaluma river. Hopefully people will start to do the right thing. If it takes holding the responsible parties accountable then so be it. Hopefully it will work like perepressure.

    Thank you Baykeepers for your help in getting some action.

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