By Mike Marshall
OPINION Progressives have a rare opportunity to improve San Francisco’s water and power policies by passing Proposition F, the Water Conservation and Yosemite Restoration Initiative, this November. Prop F would require the city to do something it’s been reluctant to do: develop a plan for making our outdated, wasteful water system more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Despite San Francisco’s “green” reputation, we don’t yet recycle water, we treat rainwater as sewage, we wash our streets and flush our toilets with drinking water, and we use Yosemite National Park as a water storage tank (Hetch Hetchy Valley, where we built a dam almost 100 years ago, was one of Yosemite’s grandest valleys and contained an extraordinary ecosystem).
Meanwhile, other California cities and counties have developed much more eco-friendly water systems. Orange County, not known for progressivism, recycles 92 million gallons of water a day.
Opponents of Prop F claim that reform of our water system would be too expensive, but they cite unreliable and inflated cost estimates. One of Prop F’s purposes is to replace such speculation with realistic numbers.
Opponents say it’s “insane” to take away San Francisco’s water source, but that’s misleading; Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is a storage site (one of nine reservoirs in our water system), not a water source. The Tuolumne River is our primary water source, and will remain so regardless of whether we return Hetch Hetchy Valley to the National Park Service for restoration.
Opponents claim we’d lose the hydropower generated by the current system, but our hydropower facilities are downstream from Yosemite, and would continue to power all the same city services they currently do. It’s true that if we relinquish the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, we’ll have less power to sell to other energy markets, but we can make up the difference by increasing our investment in renewable power such as wind and solar, which we should be doing anyway.
In fact, San Francisco owns 42 miles of above-ground right-of-way between Yosemite and the city, where we can place enough solar panels to generate at least 40 megawatts per year—an idea that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has never even considered. This, too, can be part of the plan that will result from passage of Prop F.
Remember, Prop F changes nothing about our current system. It simply requires the formation of a task force with a lean budget of $8 million to develop a specific plan for reform, which will be completed in 2015 and made available for public review, discussion and debate. San Francisco voters would then approve or reject the plan in 2016. Only if voters approve the plan will actual reform begin. This approach is appropriately cautious, thorough and transparent. If the costs of reform are too high, or if our commitment to a sustainable future is too low, voters will reject the plan and our current water system will continue unchanged.
Prop F opponents aren’t waiting to see what the costs of reform might be, or even whether the reform plan makes sense. They want to prevent the plan from happening. How does that serve the interests of San Francisco residents, when the plan would give them essential information about how and whether their water system can become more sustainable?
So please join me in voting for Proposition F. Let’s at least get a water reform plan on the table.
Mike Marshall lives in Hayes Valley is the Executive Director of Restore Hetch Hetchy.