Water woes likely to drain local supply

Water that is now reserved for San Francisco and the Peninsula will go toward the drought-ravaged state, but how much and when is being hammered out in Sacramento.

Drought conditions, an aging distribution system and environmental restrictions on water usage have dried up farms and left 23 million Californians who get their drinking water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with a shortage.

But as state legislators work on fixing the Delta — a crisis that has decimated farming output, a major contributor to the state’s economy — one vexing issue is how much of The City’s water supply should flow to the rest of the state and whether San Francisco will have to pay to fix a system it hardly uses.

The City only takes about 1 percent of the Delta’s water supply. The City is mostly supplied from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which it has owned for almost a century. The reservoir supplies around 2.6 million residents in the Bay Area, including San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara counties.

Aggressive conservation efforts in The City have kept its Hetch Hetchy supply exceeding demand, though that reserve may soon be going to other parts of the state.

“There is going to be more water going down south, that’s just a reality,” Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, told The Examiner.

One of the proposals about water usage in the state was legislation that failed last month, which was called good news by local officials. The bill “could have threatened our water supplies and imposed charges and fees on us,” said Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

“There’s nothing in the bill that would protect the increased pressure that San Francisco may face if more water goes down south,” Yee said.

The bill also did not ensure Delta users would increase their conservation efforts the way Bay Area residents have, Yee said.

Legislators and top agency officials statewide are now working daily to come up with a solution that addresses fairness issues. On Friday, those talks were moving positively in that direction, Winnicker said.

The City was not involved in negotiating the first bill, but is now at the table, he said.

While it is in The City’s best interest to help fix the Delta so that water is available to all state residents, San Francisco “deserves a seat at the table,” said Nathan Ballard, spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“We are going to make sure that we protect our water supply,” Ballard said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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