Opinion: What is the city going to do about the horrible stench in West Berkeley?

City officials say there is no definite connection between the smell, the pollution in Aquatic Park, and feces making their way from RV dwellers to the water. The author disagrees.

We now know why it smells horrible in West Berkeley – the only question is, what is the city going to do about it?

As I make my way from my office in downtown Berkeley to my home in West Berkeley, a familiar scent hits right around the time I cross Sacramento Street: the stench of fetid human waste. It wasn’t always like this, but the stink has grown worse and worse over the last two months, to the point where I have to make the tough decision each day whether to open my windows and deal with the putrid smell or keep them closed and simmer in the stuffy heat.

Of course, we now know why my neighborhood smells like shit: Aquatic Park is filled with it. While the city has advised residents to “avoid the water at Aquatic Park entirely,” it is in apparent denial about the stinky source. City spokesperson Matthai Chakko claims there is no proof the feces is coming from the RV dwellers who may be dumping their waste down storm drains. While that may be true, I challenge the city, and anyone else, to identify at least one likely source of the E. coli and the intestinal bacteria enterococci that is abundantly present in Aquatic Park other than, well, intestines.

Did workers from a Central Valley slaughterhouse make the 100-mile trip to Berkeley to illegally dump some carcasses and intestinal waste in Aquatic park? Are dog owners all of a sudden letting their pets poop in the pond en masse? No, these are obviously ridiculous thoughts, because there is really only one reasonable, logical, and physically possible explanation for why enterococci are in the water at Aquatic Park at such elevated levels.

While EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler has laughably accused the state of California of “significant” water problems stemming from its failure to address its homelessness crisis (Wheeler cites elevated levels of metals and chemicals like copper and cyanide, which clearly cannot be linked to an increase in homelessness), the city of Berkeley’s failure to act on this human health and environmental issue could provide the Trump administration with even more fodder to pick on our community. In addition, with North American bird populations down a whopping 29% since 1970, and our oceans facing more danger than ever, do we really want to be adding to the problem by allowing our waters to continue to be polluted?

It is clear that Berkeley and the region as a whole are facing a homelessness crisis unlike ever before, and that people are resorting to living in RVs as a result of this crisis. As KC aptly put it, “when you don’t have available bathrooms, you go where you need to go.” That’s a tough question, and while I may not have the answer, I feel that as long as the city is going to allow people to continue to live in RVs on our streets, it is incumbent upon the city to figure out a way to deal with the waste problem. Which brings me back to the title of this opinion piece: what is the city going to do about it?

Michael Fox is an environmental scientist who lives and works in Berkeley, and, unlike the Trump administration, actually does care about our water quality.