San Francisco called out for alleged water waste

A conservative Central Valley congressman has a bracing message for environmentally conscious San Franciscans.

We waste more water than Southern California.

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Former California attorney general and current Gold River Rep. Dan Lungren, a longtime proponent of emptying the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park, is calling for a federal investigation into San Francisco’s water use.

In a Dec. 7 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Lungren complained that San Francisco does not take full advantage of alternative water sources — such as recycling water, developing groundwater supplies and harvesting rain water — and relies too heavily on water from the Tuolumne River and the reservoir it feeds.

Lungren wants a federal investigation into whether The City’s reliance on Hetch Hetchy water violates the Raker Act. Authored in 1913, that legislation laid the groundwork for The City’s use of Tuolumne River, but stipulated that its use should be minimized.

The congressman, whose district encircles Sacramento and includes the Sierra watersheds just north of the Tuolumne River basin, has long supported efforts to drain the reservoir and return the Hetch Hetchy Valley to its natural state. He has backed surveys that looked into the reservoir’s use.

In his letter, Lungren compared the amount of water that San Francisco recycles to that recycled by agencies in Southern California, where he said water agencies do more to reuse water.

“Every time I raise it as an issue, it’s the huge elephant in the room — no one wants to talk about it,” Lungren said Tuesday. “If in fact it doesn’t have merit, why is everyone afraid to look at it?”

Michael Carlin, deputy general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which manages the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System, said the agency is not violating the Raker Act. He pointed to existing and planned programs aimed at cultivating alternative water sources.

Carlin said SFPUC uses about 6 million gallons of recycled water a day in communities outside The City; about 1.5 million gallons of groundwater for irrigation, including in Golden Gate Park; and is developing a program to use groundwater for drinking.

But as for eliminating The City’s reliance on Hetch Hechy — a goal shared by Lungren and many California environmentalists — Carlin said that’s unlikely.

“There’s not sufficient local water to replace Hetch Hetchy,” he said. “There is no viable option to replace Hetch Hetchy.”

Although shutting down the reservoir may be a pipe dream, Mike Marshall, executive director of Restore Hetch Hetchy, said he is hopeful Lungren’s efforts will at least push The City to reduce its reliance on the reservoir and river. A federal investigation could prompt The City to right a wrong that Marshall said is embarrassing for the otherwise forward-thinking city.

“Instead of becoming the state embarrassment, let’s become the city that makes the changes that other cities then measure themselves against,” Marshall said. “We’re the leader of so many changes and reforms, but when it comes to water, we’re dead last.”


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