Future attempts to consider draining the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir such as the one that voters rejected in November could face a new hurdle: approval by water agencies representing millions of residents in Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
San Francisco owns the O’Shaughnessy Dam, which created the Hetchy Hetchy Reservoir on the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park. Since 1934, the Hetch Hetchy water system has been the primary source of drinking water for San Francisco. But The City also sells water to 26 agencies in three neighboring counties.
In fact, more than 1.7 million customers outside of San Francisco use about two-thirds of the system’s water, and they share in the costs to operate and maintain the system. But they do not have a vote on San Francisco ballot measures like Proposition F on the November ballot.
That measure, which nearly 77 percent of voters rejected, asked whether San Francisco should study and then draft a plan to restore Hetch Hetchy Valley, including the removal of O’Shaughnessy Dam and the draining of the reservoir.
After voters rejected Prop. F, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, which represents the agencies that purchase water from the Hetch Hetchy system, amended their contract to give the agencies a voice in such measures in the future.
On Tuesday, the SFPUC approved the amendment, which would allow the 26 water agencies to weigh in, and possibly reject, any future plans that would remove the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
Arthur Jensen, general manager of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, said the amendment prevents San Francisco from changing the condition of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir unless the contract is amended to ensure supply reliability, water quality and costs for out-of-town customers of the system. Many of the 26 out-of-town agencies would also have to agree to the amendment.
“If the voters of San Francisco decide to restore Hetch Hetchy, the elected officials on the Peninsula have the power to veto it,” said Restore Hetch Hetchy Executive Director Mike Marshall, whose group was the main backer of Prop. F. Marshall called the contract change “an end-run around democracy.”
Jensen said the amendment must now be voted on by the 26 boards representing the affected water agencies, which could take up to three months for the decisions to be made.