Survey finds San Francisco’s water priorities are out of sync with the environmental values of its constituents

People conserve water assuming their actions will benefit the environment. However, in San Francisco and much of the Bay Area, this is not the case.

A recent public opinion poll of 402 San Francisco voters found that environmental protection is a strong motivating force for water conservation. The survey was commissioned by Tuolumne River Trust, and conducted by the Social Science Research Center.

93% of respondents said they personally conserved water during the recent drought. Of those, 94% said protecting the environment played a role in their actions. When asked if they would be more likely to conserve water if they knew it benefitted the environment, 72% responded yes. Conversely, only 21% said they would be more likely to conserve water if it only enabled more development.

“Unfortunately, the water we conserved during the recent 5-year drought did not benefit the environment,” said Peter Drekmeier, Policy Director for the Tuolumne River Trust. “Instead, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) hoarded it behind dams, only to dump it during last year’s near-record precipitation. The Tuolumne River experienced one excessive year of flows at the expense of five terrible years.”

While 75% of respondents could identify Hetch Hetchy as the source of their drinking water, only 12% could identify the Tuolumne River as the source that fills the Reservoir. The Hetch Hetchy Water System, which provides water to 2.7 million people in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda Counties, is managed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).

“The SFPUC has done a great job at branding Hetch Hetchy, but has failed to educate its customers about the Tuolumne River, which is the true source of their water,” said Drekmeier. “Saying our water comes from Hetch Hetchy is like saying our food comes from the grocery store.”

Staff at the SFPUC have been advocating against a proposed plan by the State Water Resources Control Board that would help restore the Tuolumne River and San Francisco Bay.

“The way the SFPUC manages its dams and reservoirs is clearly out of sync with the environmental values of its constituents,” said Drekmeier. “The SFPUC has opposed measures, such as revisions to the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, aimed at restoring the San Francisco Bay-Delta and rivers that feed it.”

One reason the SFPUC has opposed the Bay Delta Plan, which would increase freshwater inflows into San Francisco Bay, is because it is planning to accommodate a rapid increase in commercial development in the coming years – a vision that is not embraced by a majority of San Francisco voters. 60% of survey respondents were unsupportive of creating more office space in San Francisco.

When asked about Plan Bay Area – a government-initiated roadmap that forecasts the addition of 1.3 million new jobs and 2 million more people to the Bay Area between 2010 and 2040 – only 11% of survey respondents believed the Plan would improve their quality of life, while 65% believed it would negatively impact their quality of life.

When asked if they would favor changing the way SFPUC Commissioners are appointed, more than twice as many people favored making the positions elected versus the status quo. The commissioners are currently appointed by the Mayor and approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Read the full results of the survey here: TRT Final Survey Report 06-29-18

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