By SF Public Utilities Commission General Manager Harlan L. Kelly, Jr.; SF Fire
Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White; and, SF Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru
Re: “Plan to protect neighborhoods abandoned,” Sunset Beacon, November, 2017.
The recent wildfires that devastated parts of Northern California this fall have caused
communities across the state to question what resources they have available to quickly
put out large fires. While it’s hard to compare the rural landscape of Santa Rosa to the
more urban and densely populated Bay Area in terms of fire risk, it is important for our
residents to know that San Francisco is committed to increasing fire protection
throughout the City.
The SF Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) owns the city’s fire suppression system,
commonly referred to as theAuxiliary Water Supply System, or AWSS. This underground
system is made up of more than 135 miles of high-pressure pipelines and hydrants that
are vital for protection against the loss of life, homes and businesses during
The challenge is that the AWSS was built in the early 1900s based on the city’s
population at that time. San Francisco, and seismic technology, has grown significantly
in the past 100 years and the fire suppression system needs to grow with it. That’s why it
was so important that voters approved the Earthquake Safety and
Emergency Response Bonds in 2010 and again in 2014.
Since that funding was first approved in 2010, the SFPUC, in partnership with the SF Fire
Department (SFFD) and San Francisco Public Works, has been implementing projects to
improve and expand the system’s water supply. In fact, we have already completed
more than 40 projects that have improved the reliability and the performance of the
city’s fire suppression infrastructure.
For example, a total of 30 new cisterns, underground water storage only used for
firefighting, have been installed across the City. Half of those cisterns are located in the
Sunset and Richmond districts. All three of the system’s three primary water sources –
Twin Peaks Reservoir, Ashbury Heights Tank and Jones Street Tank – have received
seismic reliability upgrades. And we’ve replaced the engines and installed remote
control capabilities for seawater pump station #1 to allow for remote operation.
To expand the water sources feeding into the AWSS system, we also installed a larger
connection to the 11-million-gallon Summit Reservoir, and expect to be completed with a
connection to the 70-million-gallon South Basin of the University Mound Reservoir
In addition to these projects, the SFPUC is 95 percent complete with the $4.8
billion Water System Improvement Program (WSIP), which includes more
than 80 projects, spread over seven counties from the Sierra foothills to San
Francisco. One of our last projects currently underway is the Calaveras Dam replacement
project, which will restore the Calaveras Reservoir to its 31-billion-gallon capacity,
significantly increasing the amount of local water available after an emergency.
These projects will significantly reduce the vulnerability of the SFPUC’s Hetch Hetchy
Water System to damage from seismic events, while increasing the system’s reliability to
deliver water quickly after earthquakes. The SFPUC’s strengthened and reinforced Hetch
Hetchy Water System, internationally renowned for its engineering expertise, is
incomparable to the water system that failed during the 1906 earthquake.
Our work to improve the City’s ability to respond to large fires is not done. We
are currently analyzing more than a dozen options for improving fire suppression in
the Sunset and Richmond districts, including extending the existing AWSS to
the neighborhoods and a Potable AWSS, previously referred to as a Potable Co-Benefit
System. That system would meet the same rigorous standards required by
SFFD to fight large fires using the same earthquake-resistant pipes, seismically-reliable
valves, hydrants and components used by the AWSS.
Together, we are moving forward in a coordinated, thoughtful and thorough effort
to improve and expand the City’s fire suppression water system. Our collaborative
approach utilizes all of the city’s expertise in fire suppression and water delivery.
The SFFD workforce is internationally recognized for its expertise, experience
and bravery in fighting fires. Similarly, the SFPUC is recognized as one of the top water
agencies in the world and is staffed with engineers, construction managers and
plumbers who are experts in designing, constructing, operating and improving
Furthermore, the top-tier project managers at San Francisco Public Works provide the
oversight and expertise, as well as more than 100 years of experience on AWSS
construction projects, required to implement successful capital projects.
Our three agencies will continue to implement projects utilizing new and proven
technologies that improve upon the original system design, including looking at
the modern technologies employed by Japan, a country that faces similar earthquakes.
We will also continue to keep residents informed on the status of AWSS projects as they
are completed. The safety and security of our residents and visitors is our highest
priority and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure San Francisco has the
best equipment and technology available to fight fires quickly and efficiently.
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