ILLEGAL DUMPING is costing East Bay residents their money and their health, according to Contra Costa County and the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which cleaned up hot spots last week in western Contra Costa County. 

Dumping increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and last month the utility district removed eight cars, including a Tesla, and eight tons of trash from a watershed, which is land drained by a river or river system, an EBMUD spokesperson said.

On Aug. 15 and 16, EBMUD removed three more cars and trash from two hot spots off Pinehurst Road near the Upper San Leandro Reservoir. Illegal dumping has been a problem for the district for years, EBMUD spokesperson Nelsy Rodriguez said. 

A worker on Aug. 16, 2023, helps clear a car from a watershed in Contra Costa County, Calif. as part of the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s effort to address illegal dumping. (EBMUD via Bay City News)

“This is our environment,” Rodriguez said in an interview on Aug. 16.

East Bay residents and visitors drink and live off of the water that could be affected by the waste, she said. 

Runoff from dumpsites can contaminate groundwater and wells, according to the county. 

Tuesday and Wednesday’s cleanups cost EBMUD $77,000 and since July 2021 the utility district has spent more than $280,000 to clear dump sites.

Rodriguez said people and/or businesses are disposing of anything at these locations that you would see at a dump, such as mattresses and diapers.

Other waste such as appliances can leach hazardous substances into the environment, said Jo-Anmarie Ricasata, program coordinator for Contra Costa County’s illegal dumping initiative. 

‘A huge problem’

Ricasata said, “Illegal dumping is a huge problem” and is occurring in rural, suburban and urban parts of the county.

To tackle the problem, county officials created the Illegal Dumping Initiative that is coordinated between five county departments, including the sheriff’s office, environmental health, district attorney’s office, public works and the Department of Conservation and Development.   

EBMUD officials are unsure why dumping increased during the pandemic. Every time workers clear a site, there is another site to tend to, Rodriguez said. 

The trash at times is down steep embankments, which makes it dangerous for cleaning crews and expensive to clear, Rodriguez said. 

Ricasata said it costs eight times more to clean up a dump site than it does for residents to dispose of their waste properly. 

Before Contra Costa County started its illegal dumping initiative, it was spending $1.8 million a year to address the problem. Since then, it has augmented that amount each year through county reserves, state funds, the county’s Measure X sales tax and a Caltrans grant. 

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.