EPA sues San Francisco over sewage discharges

By Camille von Kaenel | 05/02/2024 12:07 PM EDT

The federal government claimed the city is violating the Clean Water Act in an enforcement action started by former President Donald Trump.

People visit the Golden Gate Bridge as a rain storm moves through the area.

In a lawsuit, EPA and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board fault San Francisco’s combined sewer system, which sends untreated wastewater directly into the bay during periods of high runoff. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

SACRAMENTO, California — The Department of Justice and California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) sued the city and county of San Francisco on Wednesday for failing to stop billions of gallons of untreated sewage from spilling into the San Francisco Bay and onto beaches each year over the last decade.

San Francisco’s inability to stop its sewage system from overflowing — especially during storms — increases the risk to the public and violates the Clean Water Act, the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges. The federal government asked for millions of dollars in penalties and an injunction.

Water pollution in San Francisco and other California cities became a political lightning rod under former President Donald Trump, who blamed liberals for waste from homeless encampments and issued the city an environmental notice of violation in 2019. At the time, San Francisco pushed back, calling Trump’s claims misleading and politically motivated.


Untreated sewage contains pathogens and high levels of enterococci and E. coli bacteria that can cause both minor and life-threatening infections and illnesses.