board of supervisors

Hearing held to address blended water concerns

by Jonathan Farrell


The SF Board of Supervisors held a hearing on May 24 to review the current status

of the San Francisco Ground Water Project.


Concerns about the mixing of treated ground water with the near-pristine mountain

waters of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir have been in focus lately as implementation

to increase the amount of ground water mixing began in April.


The plan to mix the two water sources goes back more than 10 years and, with the recent

drought throughout California, an effort to push the plan was made. Still, residents,

community leaders and activists expressed concern that more caution should

be taken to keep the water as pristine as possible for human consumption.


George Wooding, who serves as president of the Coalition for San Francisco

Neighborhoods, attended the hearing. He pointed out that with no drought and no

current shortage of water supply it’s not to any advantage mixing a lower quality water

with the highly-rated Hetch Hetchy water.


“We don’t want this water until it’s proven to be safer. We don’t want this until we need

it,” Wooding told the supervisors.


City Supervisor Norman Yee and others on the Board of Supervisors called the

hearing, at the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, to provide an

opportunity for public comment and to ask questions about public safety.


One local resident, Christopher Bowman, wondered if voters back in 2002 would

have approved a billion-dollar bond measure for ground water projects if it was

publicized that ground water would be mixed with Hetch Hetchy water.


The SFPUC and others point out that the SF Ground Water project is intended to diversify

and safeguard alternative resources of the city’s water supply, especially in times of

drought and emergencies.


After the hearing, Suzanne Gautier, speaking on behalf of SF Water and the SFPUC,

defended the safety of the blended water.


“We will continue to provide our customers with high-quality drinking water that meets

or exceeds all regulatory safety and quality standards set by the California State Water

Resources Control Board, Division of Drinking Water, and the U.S. Environmental

Protection Agency,” Gautier said.


“We will add one million gallons of water per day (m.g.d.) of groundwater to the current

supply in the first year of the project. This will increase at a rate of approximately

one m.g.d. per year until we reach year four, when four m.g.d. will be pumped from

the Westside Groundwater Basin aquifer and added to the existing supply.

San Francisco’s water use is on average about 60 m.g.d.,” she said.  “The plan is to

have the first one m.g.d. blended with our regional supply in the late  summer or early

fall of 2017.”


Once the project is completed, the SFPUC will have six groundwater wells pumping up to

four m.g.d. of groundwater from the Westside Groundwater Basin under

western San Francisco. The ground water will be treated with chlorine

and then delivered to the Sunset and Sutra reservoirs. The blended water will be

served to about half of the SFPUC’s customers in the City. San Francisco’s drinking

water supplies are tested daily with a network of instrumentation throughout the

regional water system as well as through manual sampling.


On an average day, San Francisco residents, businesses and visitors rely primarily

on the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System, a system that combines the resources

of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir with five watershed-fed reservoirs in the

Bay Area, for 60 million gallons of drinking water.


“Adding groundwater to our regional water supplies makes San Francisco’s water

supply more reliable, particularly in the event of droughts and emergencies,”

Gautier said.


Representatives from both the environmental non-profit organization SPUR and

the SF Health Department praised the Ground Water Project. They and others

consider the mixing of treated water with Hetch Hetchy to be safe.


Speaking on behalf of SPUR, Laura Tam said SPUR supports the effort to

blend ground water with other city water.


“Forty percent of Americans drink ground water. It is still incredibly safe.

I’m fine with my kids drinking it. because the testing is frequent,” Tam said.


Yet, with regards to testing, some members of the Board of Supervisors

wished to remain vigilant. The board would like the SFPUC and SF Department

of Public Health to come back to the board when one m.g.d. of treated ground

water is being blended, with tests continuing to be conducted.


Steven Ritchie, the SFPUC’s assistant general manager of water, believes much

of the concerns expressed, especially from residents, is based upon “limited

information.” He said diversifying the water supply (by means of ground water) “is the

wave of the future.”


Despite assertions that the city’s water supply was safe, Yee vowed that the Board

of Supervisors, through its Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee,

would have a follow-up hearing.

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