They drink the Tuolumne River

Last Thursday I took a trip to Foster City to talk to the folks who use most of the Tuolumne River water that San Francisco imports to the Bay Area. I had not visited them in more than a year and it seemed like a good time to stop by.

San Francisco owns and operates Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park as part of a broader system of pipelines, powerhouses and dams in the Tuolumne River watershed.       


But most of the Tuolumne River water imported to the Bay Area is not consumed in San Francisco. Rather, San Francisco sells about 2/3 of its supply to wholesale customers in other Bay Area communities, including most of San Mateo County and parts of Santa Clara and Alameda Counties. These communities are collectively represented by the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA). BAWSCA's Board normally meets in Foster City.

Our lawsuit targets San Francisco, as it alleges the city, by storing water in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, is violating California's prohibition against any "unreasonable method of diversion."

Because of BAWSCA's dependence on San Francisco's Regional Water System, we named BAWSCA a "Real Party in Interest". Our lawsuit was an item on BAWSCA's agenda (albeit in closed session). I thought I would stop by and make a brief statement to the Board in the 3 minutes allowed for public comment.

The complete statement is posted online. It reads in part: 

"...we do not believe that water should be stored in the iconic Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. We believe Congress erred when they permitted a dam to be built in 1913 - the only such destruction ever allowed in any of America's national parks.

We would prefer not to be in court. We would prefer to be working with BAWSCA and San Francisco. We have positive and professional relationships with staff in both agencies. But to date, San Francisco and BAWSCA have shown no inclination to consider restoration. 

We look forward to the day when we can work together - providing a reliable supply of high quality water to home and businesses in the BAWSCA communities and in San Francisco, while making Yosemite National Park whole once again."

It felt good to make an appearance and remind the BAWSCA Board that restoration is about Yosemite National Park and that Restore Hetch Hetchy cares about their water supply reliability.

It was hard to discern any collective reaction to the statement, if there was any. After all the 27 board members represent very different communities. I spoke individually to only a few members. But I do get a sense that, as a group, BAWSCA's attachment to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is more business than emotion. By comparison, some leaders in San Francisco seem to agree with Senator Dianne Feinstein that maintaining a reservoir in Yosemite is the city's birthright

But Water agencies have little history of changing willingly. BAWSCA does not seem eager for restoration to occur. The statement that they made the day we filed our lawsuit lays out a tough but generally reasonable set of conditions under which restoration might occur. It reads in part: 

"Any action to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir or otherwise impact the System must be preceded with a plan to protect the health, safety and economic well being of all the water users. And any such plan to protect the water users must provide for reliable alternative water storage and a supply of high-quality water that is acceptable to those who use two-thirds of the water and pay two-thirds of the System's costs."

As I told the Board, we look forward to working with them.