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,”
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.