Environmentalists since John Muir 100 years ago have lamented the inundation of the magnificent Hetch Hetchy Valley for San Francisco's water supply, and they have persistently lobbied to drain the system's main reservoir. This summer, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) will review and release a report on the valley's restoration. The report suggests water and power replacement options for the San Francisco Bay Area.
Work on the report began in November 2004 after Secretary of Resources Mike Chrisman released a letter to State Assembly members asking to use existing staff and budget resources to develop information about rerouting of water and energy supplies. The California Dept. of Water Resources was charged to work with the Dept. of Parks and Recreation.
The report includes limited benefit and cost estimates and focuses on four alternatives: no dam removal with passive recreation; no dam removal with active recreation; dam removal with passive recreation; and dam removal with active recreation. Dam removal and active recreation would be the most expensive and create billions in construction of new pipelines, tunnels and aqueducts and recreational facilities and pathways.
According to Gary Bardini, project lead and chief of Hydrology and Flood Operations at the California Dept. of Water Resources (DWR), Bay Area water would instead come from rerouting of Sierra snowmelt in the upper Tuolumne River watershed before it goes into the Hetch Hetchy and use of reservoirs such as Lake Don Pedro and other surface storage areas. “We would also create projects in the Bay Delta and Sacramento areas,” he says.
But don’t make park reservations yet. “We’ll have more information, but we might decide we don’t want to continue,” says Bardini.
Tony Winnicker, director of communications at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which has been cooperating with DWR on the study, confirms Bardini’s caution. “It’s an urban growth issue,” he says. “Every analysis and study we’ve done says we need more water not less.”
He also notes that SFPUC’s $4.3 billion capital improvement project will not be affected by the report’s findings. Most of the project involves necessary seismic improvements to Bay Area tunnels, water facilities and sites and the Calaveras Dam—not all of which use Hetch Hetchy water.