H2Oh My God!


by Amanda Witherell

dam photo.jpg

The Commonwealth Club is doing a thorough wash of water issues this month with their Cool Clear Water lecture series. Tonight they hosted the SFPUC's general manager, Susan Leal. Besides telling us that the whole banning bottled water thing was her idea, not Mayor Newsom's, who's taking some lovely credit for it, she also gave us the run down on the PUC's massive overhaul of our water system.

For the low, low price of $4.3 billion we're getting...

a seismic upgrade of the system, which crosses three major fault lines, and includes a dam in Alameda that experts say has moved. Yikes. They're also working on a sewer system master plan -- 70 percent of our sewer lines are over 70 years old. They're also exploring ways to diversify our water supply, with recycling, possible desalination, sticking our straw in some other pools, including tying into the system run by our friends over in the East Bay in case ours leaks. Leal assured us all of this is "on track," and she seemed very excited about the fact that this is a city-run project, even though they're working with contractors for the 75 construction projects. She also gave us all props for conserving, and said we've had a 12 percent reduction in water use from 2004, our last dry year. (By the way, don't let those plump reservoirs fool you -- they're about 65 percent melted snow and we're officially having a dry year. Remember canceling that trip to Tahoe back in January? Yeah, no snow, no hucking your meat down the slopes, nothing to drink either.)

Leal was very diplomatic when the question was raised that the Pacific Institute and the Tuolumne River Trust recently released a study deeply criticizing the SFPUC's water plan. She said the environmental impact report was still a DRAFT, and they're taking comments now and having public hearings in September where you'll have plenty of opportunity to spout off and maybe they'll listen.

Here are some fun facts:

1. There aren't any pumps between here and Hetch Hetchy. Our water travels 167 miles by the magical power of gravity!

2. Our water gets tested 80,000 times a year. Whoa. And if your water tastes like crap, could be your pipes. The PUC will come out and test those for you if you want.

3. Removing the dam from Hetch Hetchy would cost between $3-10 billion. Leal thinks that's an underestimate and there's a lot more environmentalism we can by with 10 bills.

4. Twenty percent of all the power San Francisco uses comes from the dam at Hetch Hetchy, and is used in city buildings and managed by the SFPUC.

5. Including MUNI! Our buses run on Hetch Hetchy power! Now, don't go confusing MUNI's poor performance with the supreme benefits of publicly owned power, including the fact that it's cheaper. LOTS cheaper. Leal said PG&E's power costs 8 cents a kw while the PUC distributes Hetch Hetchy power to all municipal buildings and their accoutrements for 2 cents a kw. Hmmm...