CASTRO VALLEY, Calif. - Day after day, several neighbors in one Bay Area community see and smell septic tank service trucks that are consistently unloading raw sewage into a manhole on their sidewalk. It’s gross. It smells. It’s an eyesore. And, it’s all perfectly legal.
Neighbors said they’ve complained for years to various agencies including the Castro Valley Sanitary District about the dumping, but feel as though they’ve fallen on deaf ears.
A tipster contacted 2 Investigates after seeing and taking pictures of one of the trucks unloading its tank into the manhole on Norbridge Avenue, a neighborhood street in the unincorporated area of Castro Valley.
“It’s a daily thing guaranteed,” Jason Wright said. “It’s like a hot Porta John on a summer day. It’s not pleasant.”
Wright has been renting a house that backs up to the sidewalk where the sewer is located. He said his family has been dealing with the sound of trucks and the smell of human waste for years and has had serious ongoing concerns about the practices of all companies that unload there. In 2015, records show he went to the county and the sanitary district about the constant dumping, complaining there were no splash guards or precautions taken to protect his neighborhood from the stinky sewage.
What he and many of his other neighbors can’t understand is why the sanitary district managers would pick their street to dump human feces down a manhole and create such a stinky mess so close to their homes. The district countered that this has been working well since 2015 and the spot was chosen because the manhole here has larger pipes and can handle thousands of gallons of sewage better than other spots in its jurisdiction. Last fiscal year, the sewage program generated more than $20,000 for the Castro Valley Sanitary District. Dumping is only supposed to happen Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., according to the paperwork associated with the discharge permits.
Neighbors said you wouldn’t know all the trucks are dumping here because it looks like any other sewer cover in the middle of the sidewalk.
“It’s deemed a sidewalk, not a dump site,” Weight said. “It’s like rotten eggs and rotten milk at one time.”
The waste that’s disposed into the manhole connects to the sanitary sewer system and is managed by the Castro Valley Sanitary District. General manager Roland Williams said the discharges by the sewage trucks is a normal operation as a way to properly dispose of waste.
“We are a sanitary district so we receive waste water whether it’s from facilities or other operations such as that,” he said. “They definitely need a permit from us and if it meets that criteria, then they would be allowed to discharge and we tell them specifically where and when they can discharge into the sanitary sewer system.”
Records show two different septic tank service truck companies are permitted to dump and were assigned that specific manhole on Norbridge Avenue. 2 Investigates is not identifying the companies involved in the neighborhood complaints because there was no evidence of them breaking the law. Both companies paid $1,000 for a year-long permit and owe five cents for every gallon that’s unloaded. A full load costs the companies roughly $150. Williams said he hadn’t heard any complaints about the Norbridge Avenue dumping location.
“If it’s a nuisance or some other issues that need to be addressed, we need to be made aware of them so we can take the appropriate action,” Williams said.
Action is the very thing Robert Henderson and other families want to see to stop the sewage flows so they can enjoy their backyards.
“While my kids are out here playing, while I’m out here doing things with my family, they’re out here pumping thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the ground 10 feet away from me,” Henderson said. “Whoever made it legal needs to change their thought process a little bit and possibly take another look at that.”
Despite the overall legality of the sewage dumping, several neighbors have complained that the companies aren’t sticking to the rules of the contract. They’ve spotted trucks backing up on the sidewalk and tipping their tanks outside of the permitted times and many times on weekends.
“It’s been on birthdays, Mother’s Day, you know, holidays,” Wright said. “We host a lot of BBQs so it’s unpleasant.”
Another concern for neighbors is reports of sewage spills occurring by permitted septic tank service truck companies.
- In 2015, a warning letter was sent to one of the companies concerned by an increase in resident complaints regarding spills.
- In April, one company reported another and took pictures of a sewage spill occurring in the same neighborhood.
- This month, warning letters were sent to companies that stated, “Failing to prevent spills or clean up after a spill is a violation of the permit…If spills continue, (the sanitary district) may have to take steps to enforce changes.”
Castro Valley Sanitary District said Monday it has not received any more recent complaints so no additional fines or violations have been issued. However, there is discussion of establishing protocols that could require and inspector to be present during each and every discharge. Additionally, if negligence continues, the sanitary district said it will terminate a permit.
One of the permitted companies said they have every right to dump where they are dumping. After hearing of complaints they have contacted the sanitary district to see if there's a different location.
The sanitary district was not aware of any other municipalities with a similar program and said overall the companies have had good track records.
After 2 Investigates raised concerns, Alameda County Department of Public Works tasked an environmental employee to investigate the neighborhood manhole dump site and nearby spillway to make sure it doesn't pose a pollution or health risk.