San Francisco will have to spend $14 billion to filter nutrients from human poop to halt the growth of a giant algal bloom blamed for killing thousands of fish in the city’s famous bay
- San Francisco Bay is covered in a giant algal bloom that first appeared in July
- Officials say treated human waste from the eight million residents is fueling the bloom
- There are 37 facilities in the area, the smallest of which dumps 85 million gallons of treated human waste into the bay, which contains at least 5.5 tons of nitrogen
- Officials say they may limit the amount of nutrients that are dumped into the bay
- However, this would cost $14 billion to modernize all of the region’s facilities
California officials say it will cost $14 billion to upgrade aging sewage plants that dump nutrients from treated human sewage into the San Francisco Bay, which is feeding a huge algal bloom that has lasted for more than two months and is killing tens of thousands of fish.
The algal bloom that emerged in late July has grown to an immense size due to the tons of nutrients from the urine and feces of the Bay Area’s eight million residents pouring into their waterways every day — one plant alone drains 85 million gallons a day containing 5.5 tons of nitrogen.
Scientists say the bloom was triggered by climate change, but its size, abundance of organisms, and how long it lasted are all down to human wastage.
This massive, long-lived bloom has resulted in the deaths of up to 10,000 fish, suffocated by the seaweed that has blanketed the bay.
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The algal bloom occurred in July but has increased in size due to nutrients from human waste dumped in the bay
No raw sewage leaks were found at the 37 facilities in the area, according to the SF Chronicle.
The bloom first appeared in Alameda in late July and can now be found along Sausalito, Vallejo and Fremont — about 40 miles from where the bloom first appeared.
The $14 billion would be used to upgrade aging waste facility systems to limit the amount of nutrients discharged into the bay, and the cap may be needed in 2024 when regional permits are due for renewal.
However, this would also cost the tariff payer three times the amount of their water bill.
The bloom, said to be the largest in a decade, has killed tens of thousands of fish
Even one of the smallest facilities, the San Jose/Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility, dumps 5.5 tons of nitrogen a day into the bay with its 85 million gallons of water.
Most facilities follow agency requirements, but the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) recently paid an $816,000 fine for dumping 16.5 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the bay in October 2021.
The runoff is said to have seeped into the body of water during a major rainstorm and was not disposed of intentionally – but this is one of the problems with the aging infrastructure.
A similar event happened in 2010, but in the process millions of gallons of untreated sewage flowed into the bay.
Officials say sewage works may be needed to limit the amount of nutrients being dumped into the bay. This would cost $14 billion to upgrade the existing infrastructure
This kills thousands of fish in the bay, with up to 10,000 in Lake Merritt, North America’s oldest wildlife sanctuary, which is home to several different bird and fish species
Algal blooms form when algal colonies get out of control, and they only need sunlight, nitrogen and phosphorus to thrive.
The red algal bloom is caused by a microorganism called Heterosigma akashiwo.
And the many years of bringing nitrogen into the bay has resulted in this bloom becoming one of the largest in more than a decade.
This kills thousands of fish in the bay, with up to 10,000 in Lake Merritt, North America’s oldest wildlife sanctuary, which is home to several different bird and fish species.
People are being urged to keep both animals and children out of the water after Oakland city officials found “low levels of pollutants linked to harmful algal blooms.”
The stench of rotting fish is said to be so intense that some wear face masks to cover their noses outside.
Algal blooms kill fish by smothering them under a thick layer of microorganisms
An algal bloom is a rapid increase in the algal population in an aquatic system.
The phenomenon can occur in both freshwater and marine environments, causing water discoloration by turning yellow, red, or light green.
Some algal blooms result from an excess of nutrients causing the growth of algae and other green plants.
As more algae grow, other plants die and become food for bacteria.
The more food is available, the more bacteria will multiply and consume the dissolved oxygen in the water.
Algal blooms can cause water discoloration, turning lakes and other bodies of water red, yellow, or green
When oxygen levels decrease, many fish and aquatic insects cannot survive, resulting in a dead zone.
Some types of algae also produce neurotoxins.
At the high cell concentrations reached during some blooms, these toxins can have serious biological effects on wildlife.
Algal blooms composed of phytoplankton known to naturally produce biotoxins.
While many people refer to these blooms as “red tide,” scientists prefer the term Harmful Algal Blooms, or HABs.