San Francisco PUC Awash in Water Pollution Violations

Tags: , ,

Monday, July 24, 2023
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028


San Francisco PUC Awash in Water Pollution Violations

City Agency Facing Stiff Fines Amid Pending Federal & State Legal Sanctions


Washington, DC —San Francisco’s municipal sewage agency just agreed to pay a hefty fine for water pollution violations while facing still more federal and state litigation, according to public records posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The city’s scandal-plagued Public Utility Commission (PUC) recently agreed to pay more than a quarter million dollars in fines but is resisting further sanctions in both federal and state courts.

The San Francisco PUC is responsible for managing its power, water, and sewage systems, the latter of which has racked up major sewage overflows and water pollution offenses in both San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, including –

    • An April 3, 2023 agreement to pay $236,500 to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board to compensate for approximately 50 “acute toxicity violations” and effluent exceedances;
    • A final order by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency citing PUC for violating water quality standards, failing to report sewage overflows, and refusing to update its long-term sewage control plan. PUC has appealed this final federal December 2020 enforcement action to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit: and
    • An abatement order from the state Regional Water Quality Control Board directing the PUC to address sewage overflows in low-lying areas of the city. The PUC has also appealed this order to the Alameda County Superior Court.

“It looks like the San Francisco PUC is spending as much money on lawyers to defend itself in court as it is spending to prevent violations in the first place,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that the state and federal lawyers on the other side of this litigation are also paid by taxpayers. “Rather than working cooperatively with state and federal regulators, the San Francisco PUC is acting just like any other corporate polluter in waging a war of legal attrition.”

Meanwhile, the San Francisco PUC has also recently proposed a series of big rate hikes for the next three years, averaging about 8.4% per year. It is not known what portion of any increase will go for legal expenses. In response, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has initiated an audit review of PUC financing.

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump tried to make an issue about the extent of PUC water pollution violations.

“Like a broken clock, Donald Trump is occasionally correct, but he incorrectly tried to blame the homeless for sewage overflows,” added Ruch, noting last month’s conviction of the PUC’s General Manager on federal bribery and fraud charges and that the current General Manager is the former City Attorney who had been responsible for these legal appeals. “The real problem is that the San Francisco PUC is a corrupt and utterly dysfunctional municipal agency.”


See the PUC stipulated agreement to pay $236,500 in pollution fines  

View the U.S. EPA enforcement order the PUC is appealing

Look at the sewage overflow abatement order

Phone: 202-265-7337

962 Wayne Avenue, Suite 610
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

Copyright 2001–2024 Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility

PEER is a 501(c)(3) organization
EIN: 93-1102740