By Galen Weston
San Francisco already diverts one third of the Tuolumne River as it flows through Yosemite National Park and now they want to take even more. The new draft of their "Program Environmental Impact Report" (PEIR) examines the effects of their proposal to take an additional 27 million gallons per day out of the river, exclusively for outdoor uses, and commercial growth. That's right, in a time when we Tuolumne County residents are being asked to ration and cut back on our water use, San Francisco is proposing to take an additional 27 million gallons per day out of the river in our backyard and pipe it over 150 miles away to irrigate more lawns and office parks in the south and southeast Bay Area.
This proposal is both unnecessary and irresponsible. The report recently released by the Tuolumne River Trust and the Pacific Institute ("From the Tuolumne to the Tap" see The Union Democrat article "Tuolumne River Trust to SF: Show Us Better Science," July 31, 2007) reveals a host of flaws in San Francisco's water plan. The errors fall into two general categories. The first set of errors relates to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's (SFPUC) exaggerated and inaccurate demand projections which provide the rationale for taking more water out of the river. The other class of errors relates to the inadequate science the city uses to justify its claim that taking even more water off of the Tuolumne River won't significantly impact flows below Hetch Hetchy.
The Tuolumne River is already an exceptionally hard working river, with over 60 percent of its water diverted for urban and agricultural uses. Fish and other wildlife that depend on the river, like the Chinook salmon and steelhead, are barely able to persist in the face of drastically reduced flows (see The Union Democrat article "Local anglers net little benefit from bill," April 17, 2007). In this context, water agencies should be looking for ways to reduce their water demand and let more water flow in our rivers, not less.
The good news is that San Francisco can continue to thrive without taking more water out of the Tuolumne. Their own studies show that they can meet most of their increased future demand by adopting proven conservation and recycling practices used extensively by other water agencies. San Francisco should follow the lead of our Tuolumne County water providers, Groveland Community Services District (GCSD) and Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD), who recycle almost all of their treated waste water. Other cities like Los Angeles and Seattle have implemented simple but effective water saving measures that have allowed them to continue to grow while keeping water demand flat or actually reducing their demand. One of the alternatives described in the PEIR requires the city and its water customers to pursue conservation and recycling instead of taking more water from the Tuolumne River.
The PEIR is in a draft phase and San Francisco still has time to live up to its green image by acting as a good steward of the Tuolumne River. If you can, please attend the public hearing San Francisco is holding at 6:30 p.m. next Wednesday, at the Sonora Opera Hall. This is our community's best chance to convince San Francisco to drop its plans to take more of the water that we depend on for healthy populations of fish and wildlife and for our irreplaceable recreation opportunities. Written comments can also be submitted until October 1. Visit www.tuolumne. org for more information or call Galen Weston at 588-8636.
Galen Weston, of Sonora, is the Sierra Nevada Program Associate for the Tuolumne River Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the stewardship of the Tuolumne River and its tributaries to ensure a healthy watershed.