City drinking water goes to waste as open spaces flood

The City’s parks waste thousands of gallons of drinkable water each day through cracked pipes and aged irrigation systems.

An audit of the Recreation and Park Department’s 12 most poorly irrigated open spaces reveals that updating their structures could save more than 52 million gallons of potable water a year. That’s more than what 800 average households would use in the same amount of time, and there are more than 200 parks with potentially similar problems in The City.

“Generally speaking, irrigation systems in our parks, including Golden Gate Park, are antiquated and they are in need of attention, but it’s a question of resources,” said Rec and Park spokesman Elton Pon.

Rec and Park has applied for more than $2 million worth of grants that will help fix systems in three parks on that list — Balboa Park, which has received funding, and Jefferson Square and Alta Plaza, which are awaiting approval. But the only other way Rec and Park can pay to renovate the water systems is through capital projects paid for by a bond issue or straight from its unstable $12.4 million general fund.

Those 12 parks are simply a glimmer of the dated irrigation systems, upwards of 70 years old, that spread for miles throughout The City. And their leaking flies in the face of the $4.6 billion water-improvement plan to reduce dependence on snowmelt that pours from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir to The City.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has launched several efforts through the billion-dollar project, such as drilling wells to mix groundwater with drinking water and building a wastewater treatment plant to irrigate the biggest open spaces.

The audit, coordinated by the Recreation and Parks Department and the PUC, reveals that broken sprinkler heads, overlapping watering distributors and inadequate water pressure are among other problems that need immediate attention.

“The parks on this list all had a certain level of those problems where you could sometimes see water spilling on sidewalks,” said Water Conservation Manager Julie Ortez of the PUC. “We do have an interest in continuing to study additional ones.”

The PUC has also worked with several other city agencies. Ortiz said eventually it would like to see a citywide retrofit, but initially only irrigation systems with the most glaring problems will be fixed.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

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