Save The Bay Names 23 Bay Trash Hot Spots That May Violate Federal Clean Water Act

September 17, 2008

Providing further proof that trash is a serious threat to people and wildlife in San Francisco Bay, Save The Bay’s third annual Bay Trash Hot Spots list includes 23 trash-polluted waterways draining directly to San Francisco Bay. These 23 hot spots are among the waterways and shoreline areas that the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board) is examining for exceeding the federal Clean Water Act water quality standards. (A map showcasing the ten worst hot spots can be found at:

“We need to act now to stop trash from polluting the Bay and killing its wildlife,” says Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis. “This is a problem we can no longer ignore. We need all residents to take action, like volunteering on Coastal Cleanup Day, but cities and counties should be doing much more to solve the trash problem.”

This year’s hot spots are particularly significant. Using monitoring data and photo evidence collected by the Water Board, Save The Bay members and concerned citizens, the Water Board is evaluating whether to list sites as “trash-impaired waterways.” This designation triggers formal steps to significantly reduce trash in the Bay through regulation. Currently, only one Bay waterway—Lake Merritt in Oakland—is identified as “trash-impaired” under the 303(d) section of the federal Clean Water Act.

Under Federal law the Water Board must use its regulatory authority to develop and implement a cleanup plan for waterways designated as “trash-impaired.”

The Bay Area is lagging behind Los Angeles and other areas in addressing trash problems in waterways. Nearly every Bay Area city previously told by the Water Board to voluntarily address trash pollution in the Bay has ignored the problem.

Water Board Permit Must Reduce Trash in the Bay
This fall the Water Board has the opportunity to make a significant reduction in Bay trash by approving a strong municipal storm water permit. This five-year permit regulates the amount of trash cities and counties may discharge into the Bay.  The permit covers Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, as well as Vallejo and Fairfield-Suisun, which account for 75 percent of the Bay Area’s population and thousands of storm drain outfalls. For decades, trash has not been regulated like other urban runoff pollutants, and Save The Bay is working to ensure that this permit sets meaningful limits on trash. Unfortunately, many Bay Area cities and counties actively oppose trash restrictions. By contrast, Southern California is pursuing an ambitious plan to eliminate all trash from flowing into the Los Angeles River, and the City of San Francisco already captures most of the trash that enters storm drains before it reaches the Bay.

“Because most Bay Area cities have not significantly reduced trash entering Bay waterways, a strong storm water permit with real trash reduction requirements and enforcement is essential to make the Bay cleaner,” says Lewis. “Tough restrictions are needed to stop trashing the Bay.”

The Trash Problem in San Francisco Bay
During last year’s Coastal Cleanup Day, volunteers removed over 125 tons of waste from the Bay, including 15,000 plastic bags. A recent study found an average of three pieces of trash along every foot of streams leading to the Bay, threatening the more than 500 species of wildlife that depend on San Francisco Bay, including 23 endangered species like the California clapper rail. Wildlife can become entangled in trash or ingest it, often to the point that their stomachs are completely blocked and the animals starve. What’s more, 90 percent of plastic and trash in our waterways does not biodegrade and leaches toxic chemicals into the water. Bay trash has global ramifications—it flows out the Golden Gate to join the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a floating island of trash larger than Texas in the Pacific Ocean. Countless seabirds, marine mammals, and fish die annually from eating or getting tangled in marine debris.

Bay Trash Solutions
The good news is that because we create this pollution, we have the power to diminish it. We can:

Reduce the amount of trash we generate and allow to reach the Bay by switching to reusable bags, recycling, and composting, picking up trash on streets and shorelines, and properly disposing of hazardous waste.
Advocate for tougher policies to reduce trash flowing to the Bay at
Volunteer to clean up and restore the Bay shoreline. Save The Bay hosts monthly cleanup and restoration events at several sites around the Bay. This Saturday, September 20—Coastal Cleanup Day—Save The Bay is leading cleanup events at five sites. Sign up on our Web site at

o Damon Slough (Oakland)
o Mission Creek (San Francisco)
o Alameda Creek (Hayward)
o Coyote Creek (San Jose)
o Guadalupe River (San Jose)

To find other Coastal Cleanup Day events, go to

“We strive to be a leader in reducing Bay trash pollution by educating residents about the need to reduce waste, advocating for strong policies to help limit trash in the Bay, and providing cities with tools to curb trash and other runoff pollution,“ says David Lewis.

Trash Hot Spots
The following 23 trash hot spots represent some of the trashiest areas throughout the Bay. To highlight this problem, Save The Bay launched a Web initiative showcasing this year’s ten worst trash hot spots:

Save The Bay’s list of the 23 trash hot spots around San Francisco Bay with special emphasis on the worst ten sites:

1. Cerrito Creek (El Cerrito): Running out of the Berkeley Hills into San Francisco Bay, this creek's Bay outlet forms a slough along the shoreline. Adjacent to the El Cerrito Plaza shopping center, Cerrito Creek picks up windblown trash and litter, as well as urban runoff.
2. Coyote Creek (San Jose): Trash from dumping, littering, and encampments gets caught on low-hanging branches along this San Jose creek, forming extremely large “trash rafts.”
3. Saratoga Creek (Santa Clara): Flowing through Saratoga to the South Bay, this creek collects trash from high-use areas like a community college and shopping mall, as well as major roads and expressways.
4. Colma Creek (South San Francisco): Colma Creek flows from San Bruno Mountain through industrial South San Francisco into the Bay near San Francisco International Airport.
5. Guadalupe River (San Jose): The Guadalupe River flows from the Santa Cruz Mountains through downtown San Jose. Despite a recent flood control project which revamped the urban San Jose portion, the river is still plagued by litter, dumping, and trash runoff from a dense urban area.
6. Rindler Creek (Vallejo): This creek flows alongside the Six Flags amusement park in Solano County. Poor water quality is due to windblown trash and litter. Erosion also plagues this site, but a planned stream restoration project would restore habitat for the endangered northern red-legged frog.
7. Baxter Creek (El Cerrito/Richmond): The creek flows from the Berkeley Hills to Stege Marsh and into San Francisco Bay. While several portions of the creek have been restored, some areas remain ravaged by litter and shopping carts.
8. Sausal Creek (Oakland): One of the principal waterways in Oakland, Sausal Creek begins in the hills and flows through the city, captures trash from the urban area, and empties into the Oakland Estuary.
9. Damon Slough (Oakland): Damon Slough rings the Oakland Coliseum, flowing under the BART walkway and past the parking lots, catching thousands of fans’ windblown trash. Damon Slough and other creeks drain Oakland’s runoff trash into a restored wetland, Arrowhead Marsh, home to native plants and endangered birds.
10. Strawberry Creek (Berkeley): Flowing alternately above ground and through the underground storm drain system, this creek is piped into the Bay near the Berkeley Marina. The creek sends trash from Berkeley streets out into the Bay, where it mixes with trash at the Bay shoreline.
11. San Pablo Creek (San Pablo)
12. Petaluma River (Petaluma)
13. San Tomas Creek (Santa Clara)
14. Silver Creek (San Jose)
15. Kirker Creek (Pittsburg)
16. Grayson Creek (Martinez)
17. San Mateo Creek (San Mateo)
18. Permanente Creek (Los Altos)
19. Cordonices Creek (Berkeley)
20. Stevens Creek (Mountain View)
21. Matadero Creek (Palo Alto)
22. San Francisquito Creek (Palo Alto)
23. San Leandro Creek (San Leandro)

*The ten worst sites are listed first above.

About Save The Bay
Save The Bay is the oldest and largest membership organization working exclusively to protect, restore, and celebrate San Francisco Bay. As the Bay’s leading champion since 1961, Save The Bay is committed to making the Bay cleaner and healthier and connecting residents to it. Save The Bay wages and wins effective advocacy campaigns to increase public access to the Bay, establish 100,000 acres of healthy wetlands around the Bay, and protect the Bay from today’s greatest threats: urban sprawl and pollution. This year, we will educate 10,000 students and adults on the Bay and engage thousands of volunteers to improve 100 acres of wetland habitats for fish and wildlife.