On October 30, 2008 the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) approved a $4.4 billion Water System Improvement Program (WSIP) that will upgrade the Hetch Hetchy system to enable it to withstand a major earthquake. By adopting the "Phased WSIP" alternative, the SFPUC also agreed to cap water sales at current levels until at least 2018.
The health of the Tuolumne River is at risk from a San Francisco proposal to take significantly more water from the River. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is proposing to divert up to 25 million more gallons of water per day from the Tuolumne , enough to fill 1,000 swimming pools, every day. Most of the water would be used for landscaping.
The proposal to divert more water is embedded in the SFPUC’s Water System Improvement Program (WSIP) a $4.3 billion plan to upgrade the Hetch Hetchy water system, which provides water for 2.4 million people in San Francisco, and surrounding communities in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Alameda Counties.
Taking more water from the Tuolumne would harm important habitat for fish and wildlife, including Chinook salmon and steelhead trout, degrade world-class recreation opportunities, and worsen San Francisco Bay-Delta water quality.
In commenting on the WSIP, the California Department of Fish and Game wrote:
“…we believe that if implemented as proposed, the WSIP would only exacerbate the current decline of anadromous fisheries in the Tuolumne River. Consequently, we respectfully request that the SFPUC use alternative water sources other than the Tuolumne river system or implement water conservation measures to meet drought year demands and 2030 purchase requests…”
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors agreed that no more water should be diverted from the River, and passed a resolution concluding:
”Resolved, that the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors unequivocally opposes the SFPUC’s proposed diversion of an additional 25 million gallons of water a day from the Tuolumne River…The County will seek and exercise the necessary legal remedies to see that no further water diversions occur from the Tuolumne River.”
Not only are new diversions harmful, they are unnecessary. The Tuolumne River Trust has collaborated with water efficiency experts to identify a number of flaws in San Francisco ’s water demand studies which led to inflated demands and underestimated conservation savings.
There is a Better Way: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
For a balanced and sustainable water plan, conservation is the cheapest, easiest and least destructive way to meet future water needs. Developing local sources such as recycled water can further extend water supplies.
Other municipalities are recognizing that sustainable water supply planning is necessary not only for protecting the environment, but also for managing the risks of climate change, minimizing the impacts of droughts, and improving system reliability. For example:
- Seattle, with a water system comparable to San Francisco's, has reduced water withdrawals by 15% from 1985 to 2005 while serving 20% more people
- Los Angeles decreased water use by 16% from 1990 to 2003 despite a 14% increase in population
- Boston reduced water use 30% over the past 15 years and eliminated the need for a new dam
The Bay Area lags behind other regions in reducing water waste. With practical and proven water conservation and recycling technologies, San Francisco and its water agency customers could commit to reduce water use.
Numerous significant environmental impacts were identified, including impacts on fisheries and sensitive riparian habitat in the lower Tuolumne River watershed. However, the review failed to properly identify and address all of the impacts of taking more water from the Tuolumne River. This failure largely stems from the lack of an adequate baseline study of the Upper Tuolumne River – a comprehensive study has not been conducted in over 15 years.
The Tuolumne River Trust teamed up with the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action to submit comments pointing out the numerous flaws in the report.
The Final Program Environmental Impact Report is due out during the summer of 2008.
The good news is that the environmental review document identifies a number of alternatives, including one that would require the water agencies to pursue water conservation and recycling instead of taking more water from the Tuolumne River . This water supply alternative would put the Bay Area on a path towards sustainability. Pursuing more efficient water use and a more diverse mix of water supplies, rather than continuing the Bay Area’s dependence on water from the Sierras, also would minimize the risks associated with a shrinking snowpack that will result from climate change.
The Tuolumne River Trust works with an alliance of community and environmental organizations -- the Bay Area Water Stewards -- to promote a sustainable water plan that invests in water conservation and environmental stewardship. Highlights of our accomplishments include convincing the SFPUC to:
.Drop plans to construct a new 47-mile pipeline under the San Joaquin Valley that would have allowed 50% more water to be diverted from the Tuolumne River .