San Francisco and the 2.6 million Bay Area customers of the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System have a sustainable water system with storage reservoirs in place to maintain our water supply. We have worked hard to address the constant threats of drought, climate change, and earthquakes to our water.
Last Wednesday, 59 million gallons of water flowed down the Tuolumne River into Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Of that, we released 35 million gallons downstream for river users and wildlife. At the same time, we put 170 million gallons into our pipelines to take care of our customers. Hetch Hetchy stores water for times, just like now, when rain is scarce.
Here are the facts: We deliver high-quality water every day to more than 30 cities in Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties. Our system relies on Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to deliver this water by gravity and generate hydroelectric power. This is a clean, efficient and greenhouse gas-free, sustainable system. At just 50 gallons per person per day, our San Francisco customers use about one-third of what others in the state use.
We know we can — and will — do more.
We don’t recycle as much as some others, but starting this June, we will bring recycled water to The City for use at Harding Park. In the next few years, we plan to produce 4 million gallons per day of recycled water at facilities on The City’s east and west sides — these plans are before the public for consideration right now.
Does this mean we don’t or won’t need Hetch Hetchy? No, even the best reuse efforts will never eliminate the need to store water for our day-to-day needs.
Hetch Hetchy stores 117 billion gallons of high-quality water (five times the capacity of the Crystal Springs Reservoir visible from U.S. Highway 280). It’s so pristine, it requires no filtration.
We cannot store this water anywhere else in our system — we don’t have room. We can’t store it in Don Pedro Reservoir, as it is not owned or operated by us. We cannot collect this water somewhere else downstream, as no facilities exist to do this. If we move this water, we will have to add energy-consuming filtration, while losing clean hydroelectric power. Power currently used for Muni, S.F. General, public schools, police and fire stations.
The state has considered this issue and estimated the costs to dismantle Hetch Hetchy Reservoir at $3 billion to $10 billion. Ultimately it will be up to the voters to decide if ratepayer dollars should be spent on a study to dismantle a clean, efficient system.
Ed Harrington is the general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which operates the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System.