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drafting group

Sustainability Plan / Water and Wastewater / Introduction

 A water policy that creates sustainable water use balances the needs for protection of the environment and public health, while not compromising the ability of future generations of San Franciscans to procure water to meet their basic needs. It also creates a shift from the traditional view of water as a commodity managed solely for the convenience of humans to a more balanced effort to maintain the water needs of the entire ecosystem of which humans are a part.

San Francisco is fortunate in having a pristine source of first-quality drinking water from the headwaters of the Tuolumne River in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The undeveloped watershed located within Yosemite National Park provides pollutant-free water originating primarily from snow-melt over a granite base. The Tuolumne River is captured behind O’Shaughnessy Dam and diverted to San Francisco via the Hetch Hetchy system. This system, composed of a series of dams, transport pipes and hydraulic electrical-generating stations, brings drinking water all the way to the Bay Area from the mountains. Water diversions such as this one and others, however, can have a profound effect on the San Francisco Bay Estuary, which historically received waters from rivers throughout the State. Reductions in flow to the estuary limits water available for wildlife and the overall health of the system is fundamentally dependent on the quantity and quality of water available. The degradation of water quality through the introduction of toxic materials and the reduction of flow through unmanaged use can ultimately harm the quality of life for all Californians.

To sustain life in the whole Bay watershed, it is essential to change the traditional view of water management to one that recognizes that human interests, in the long run, cannot be separated from the interests of the plants and other animals in the watershed. To this end, some members of the group drafting this section proposed restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley as a long-term objective, although this was not the consensus of the group.

The goals defined below go beyond the status quo and seek to redefine current thought on the use, treatment and reuse of San Francisco’s water and wastewater. For example, partial or complete
recycling of the City’s entire wastewater flow has been set as a goal to be attained in the not-too-distant future. This goal drives a number of related activities, such as monitoring and reducing pollutants entering wastewater before treatment and ultimately eliminating pollutants entering receiving waters after treatment. Recycling wastewater also requires increased stormwater management, including greater control of urban run-off and combined system overflows. Pollution prevention and water management will allow better use of millions of gallons of high-quality Sierra water daily. These new and expanded uses could include groundwater replenishment, aquatic habitat creation or enhancement, fisheries protection through greater flows in streams, and riparian (stream-side) habitat restoration. The large water bank created by more careful water management would reduce the need for new dams or water projects and reduce current demand on overburdened smaller streams and creeks.

The new direction and goals proposed here take the long view toward creating a sustainable water policy for the residents of San Francisco.