A Bay Area environmental group collected more than 15,000 signatures in hopes of giving San Francisco voters a chance to weigh-in on the future of Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which supplies water to 85 percent of the Bay Area.
The effort, led by environmental group, Yosemite Restoration Campaign, submitted the signatures Monday to San Francisco’s Department of Elections. It needs 9,702 signatures to qualify the initiative for the November ballot.
“The initiative is about requiring the city to develop a plan and to do a better job of managing its water,” said Mike Marshall of Yosemite Restoration Campaign, “and then begin to figure out if we can restore Hetch Hetchy Valley.”
Environmental groups have long called for the removal of O’Shaughnessy Dam in Yosemite, which was constructed in 1923 to create a water supply for the Bay Area. Marshall believes the region could find alternative supplies of water to replace Hetch Hetchy, allowing for the inundated Yosemite valley to be restored.
“You can’t restore Hetch Hetchy Valley and Yosemite without first reforming San Francisco’s water system,” said Marshall.
The Water Conservation and Yosemite Restoration Initiative calls on San Francisco to study the feasibility of removing the dam and identify alternative water sources. It also requires San Francisco to adopt strict water recycling regulations to help compensate for the loss of Hetch Hetchy water.
We’re assuming there’d be about a four percent loss of water if you took the Hetchy Hetchy water out of the system,” said Marshall. “That’s why we’re combining the initiative with introducing water recycling and ground water use.”
Opponents said the removal of the reservoir would be devastating to the Bay Area. Michael Carlin, Assistant General Manager of San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission, said past reports have pegged the price tag for the dam’s removal at up to $10 billion dollars. He also said the idea has already been the subject of at least a half-dozen reports.
“It’s been studied six times before,” said Carlin. “All have come to the same conclusions; one is we’d have to find a new source of water. Two, we’d have to find a place to store that water.”
Carlin said another issue, is the system’s hydroelectric dams supply power to a number of San Francisco agencies including Muni, police and San Francisco’s General Hospital.
“If they were to drain the Hetch Hetchy system, there could be a hit to those same departments of about 41 million dollars a year,” said Carlin.
The department of elections will have 30 days to certify the group’s signatures. Marshall said if the initiative qualifies and passes, the group would ask voters in 2016 to approve a plan to remove the dam, and restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley.