Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Hetch Hetchy pipe dream

John Diaz in the San Francisco Chronicle: It might seem irrational in this drought-vulnerable state to even think of permanently draining a High Sierra reservoir that supplies superior-quality water for 2.4 million people in San Francisco and three suburban counties. But rationality does not always count for much in San Francisco politics. A movement is afoot for a ballot measure this year to put San Francisco on a path that could lead to the removal of its dam on the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park.

The restoration of the Hetch Hetchy Valley has long been a dream of an environmental movement that traces its modern origins to John Muir's fierce and eloquent, but ultimately unsuccessful, early 20th century efforts to persuade the federal government not to turn "one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples" into a water tank for human consumption.

…Advocates of the Hetch Hetchy restoration know their plan is not going anywhere - at least, should not go anywhere - unless they can identify a reliable replacement for the hundreds of millions of gallons that flow into the Bay Area every day.

The ballot measure envisioned by Restore Hetch Hetchy would set targets for San Francisco to reduce its water consumption through conservation, recycling and other means - with the expressed goal of moving toward a Hetch Hetchy restoration once those water savings were established. If the Board of Supervisors agrees to put the measure on the ballot, expect a lively debate appealing to both the hearts and minds of San Franciscans.

….Even though Hetch Hetchy is not part of the state water system, its potential removal cannot be isolated from the larger water-shortage problems facing a state that will be dealing with the added pressures of population growth and global warming in the coming decades.

Estimates on the overall cost of a Hetch Hetchy restoration project range from $1 billion to nearly $10 billion. Where would that money come from? Suburban customers would no doubt rebel at paying significantly higher rates to San Francisco for lower-quality water. Any attempt to get state or federal money would have to compete with other water and environmental restoration projects. It's hard to imagine that Sacramento or Washington would be willing to shell out billions to replace a reliable water supply when new sources are so difficult to bring online….

Hetch Hetchy Valley, 2009 Dan Lindsay © 2009, Wikimedia Commons

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