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Toxics Management Division
Toxics Management Division

 Environmental Management Area

Many areas in the City of Berkeley are known or suspected to have groundwater contamination. These areas are known as Environmental Management Areas (EMA). You can obtain a copy of the EMA map at the Permit Service Center or you can view or download the pdf.

This page serves to remind you of your responsibilities to properly handle and dispose of contaminated groundwater or soils.  Improper disposal of contaminated water or soils can be a violation of the Federal Clean Water and State Porter Cologne Acts as well as California Hazardous Waste Laws.

General Conditions

Berkeley is an older industrial city. Berkeley's soils and groundwater have been adversely impacted by past industrial and commercial activities, as well as by leaded gasoline, lead paint, and leaking sewers. If your development project is in or very close to the EMA, you may encounter soil or groundwater contamination due to historical activities. Toxics Management Division (TMD) staff will review your project description or plans and determine if special requirements should apply. Requirements are applicable for significant soils movements or removal, and where excavation may encounter groundwater. Typical conditions are presented below for your consideration before being issued permit approval.

A soils and groundwater management plan may be required for certain developments.

Small Projects - Greater than 300 feet from Contaminated Site or Groundwater:

Groundwater in Berkeley is found from 5 feet to over 25 feet below surface, with the shallower aquifer in the west part of the City. In many areas there may also be shallower perched water, because the City lies on clayey soils. Most small projects, like small residential buildings (4 or under), sewer lines, utilities, and foundation work will likely not encounter groundwater.  Should you find groundwater during these types of jobs and notice any unusual odor, discoloration, or oily sheen, contact TMD for additional instructions.  City codes prohibit the discharge of any contaminated water into the storm drain. Silty water, concrete rinse water, or discolored water may not be discharged into the storm drain. Small volumes of uncontaminated ground water can be discharged into the storm sewer. The Regional Water Board, East Bay MUD and the City Public Works have different authorities on discharges of water to sanitary and storm sewers and must be consulted prior to discharge. 

Soils may be contaminated from industrial or commercial activities, or from lead paint and lead from past vehicle emissions. Moving soils on building sites can lead to a nuisance condition and, if contaminants are present in the soil, the impact may have significant health impacts. Prepare a soils management plan by evaluating the soil conditions and plan for proper containment and disposal that fits the soil pollution profile.

Large Projects where Dewatering is Anticipated: When large projects require dewatering during the construction phase or after construction, TMD will require certain mitigations. Since dewatering activities can draw in contamination from outside areas, monitoring of the groundwater discharges may be required after the construction. TMD may require dewatering and monitoring plans to ensure the discharge of clean water and the protection of the community from vapors or other health hazards. Additionally, where there is sufficient information indicating soils contamination is present, TMD could require testing of excavation spoils and documentation of proper disposal.

Soils management requirements are similar to the above.

REMEMBER: All contaminated groundwater or soils must be managed and disposed of properly. Improper disposal of contaminated water or soils can be a violation of the Federal Clean Water and State Porter Cologne Acts as well as California Hazardous Waste Laws.

Fees: TMD's fees are billed at the standard rate of $210.00 per hour, with a half-hour minimum per project.

Additional Information

You can find additional information on contaminated sites near you from the Water Board and the Department of Toxic Substances Control:

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Toxics Management Division, 1947 Center Street, 1st Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704
Questions or comments? Email: Phone: (510) 981-7460
(510) 981-CITY/2489 or 311 from any landline in Berkeley
TTY: (510) 981-6903