San Francisco PUC fails to Support $9.8 Billion Estimate to Restore Hetch Hetchy

Posted on 28 November 2011

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By Dan Aiello
California Progress Report

Preceding qualification of a 2012 San Francisco ballot measure that will ask city residents to return the Hetch Hetchy Valley to the National Park Service for restoration, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission admits its nearly ten billion dollar cost estimate for the project was not based on any study performed by it, but rather was an esitmate for the same state agency study that cites the SFPUC as the source of the cost estimate.

Mike Marshall, Executive Director of the Restore Hetch Hetchy non-profit organization, claims the nearly ten billion dollar figure comes from a 2007 California Department of Water Resources report that footnotes the estimates to undisclosed SFPUC documentation. 

Marshall disputes the high cost estimate of the SFPUC and DWR, offering his organization's own cost estimate of around $1.5 billion. According to Tyrone Jue, Director of Communications for SFPUC, "There was no detailed analysis done on our part because at the time there was already an independent study underway by the California Department of Water Resources to develop cost estimates," Jue wrote in an email to California Progress Report.

"Spending $65 million (as estimated by DWR in their report) of ratepayer money on a study or dedicating significant staff time to the exercise would have been a direct conflict to our clear voter-established mandate under the City Charter," said Jue.   

"Notwithstanding, in the interest of making sure the public was at least informed on missing elements from Environmental Defense and Restore Hetch Hetchy proposals," Jue wrote the [SFPUC] wants to make sure that the following factors are accounted for, including:

New interties
New pump facilities
New conveyance facilities
New capacity to accommodate the run of the river operation
Increase local storage
     Treatment facilities
     Purchase of water in critically dry years (1 in 5 years)
     Replacement of lost power from the Hetch Hetchy Project
     Compensate Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts for storage in Don Pedro
     Operation, maintenance and powering of all these new facilities
     Removal of O’Shaughnessy Dam

"Even though our estimated costs were preliminary," wrote Jue, "they were essentially validated when DWR, using their own independent methodology and assessment, arrived at a similar estimate of up to $9.8 billion for draining Hetch Hetchy.  

"The costs are clearly 3 to 10 times more than what was estimated by Restore Hetch Hetchy and Environmental Defense.  DWR also cites that the estimate 'does not include the cost of conducting all the planning studies required to proceed with further consideration of the program,'" stated Jue.

"If a decision is made to continue the investigations, the cost would be approximately $65 million,” wrote Jue.  

Marshall declined immediate comment, but said his organization will respond to the SFPUC correspondence on Monday, November 28th.

The expected November, 2012 local ballot measure will ask San Francisco’s environment-leaning, progressive voters to right what has been called the greatest environmental wrong in the nation’s history by returning the Hetch Hetchy Valley to the National Park Service for the 8 mile long valley’s eventual restoration.  

Water and its conveyance are the top political debates in California today, a state of water rich and water-wanting regions. The destruction of the Hetch Hetchy Valley by San Francisco and Mono Lake's destruction by Los Angeles dating back more than a century, remain divisive topics as environmentalists seek to restore, preserve and conserve the natural beauty of the golden state.


Dan Aiello reports for the California Progress Report.

"the greatest environmental wrong in the nation’s history"? Seriously? I know you couched it in "what has been called the...", but still, seriously?

How about that months-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? What about the fact that the coastline of Louisiana is dissolving? The Exxon Valdez? 3-mile Island? The Dead Zone caused by ag runoff in the Gulf of Mexico? Or how about any of the other large dams in California? Taking down Hetch Hetchy would not save a single salmon, whereas removing Friant would have a huge impact.

No dam is without its environmental impacts, but Hetch Hetchy's one of the more benign.

While each of the accidents you listed are, indeed, examples of egregious man-made catastrophies, they were not necessarily - tho some may argue this point - intentional or intended disasters, with the possible exception of the Louisiana coastline.

It should be noted that Louisiana voters wisely saw fit to dedicate a portion of the state's oil severance revenue to restoration of the coastline and, had they not done so, significantly more damage would have occurred including species extinction, when the gulf oil disaster reached their wetlands. This is maybe the best argument in favor of a California oil severance tax, but the GOP legislators and the oil industry's maintenance of the 2/3rds majority rule (check Chevron and Texaco's pac committees at SOS)prevents the tax from happening, and as we struggle Exxon has record quarterly earnings...

The Hetch Hetchy was intentional. San Francisco industrialists at the turn of the century and Feinstein-backing interests today, justify the destruction of the valley. Hetch Hetchy is symbolic, if not the greatest, for beginning the Sierra Club and the environmental cause. It is a wound that will not heal and, let's face it, to support it's continued use as a city resevoir is to place yourself firmly on the wrong side of history.

The Hetch Hetchy will be restored, it's just a matter of when. And what greater legacy could a generation leave the next, then by being the one that saw fit to return the Hetch Hetchy to Yosemite National Park for its eventual restoration?