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July 10, 2012 > Proposal to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Proposal to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Statement by Arthur Jensen, Chief Executive Officer Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA)

A group named Restore Hetch Hetchy is attempting to place an initiative before San Francisco voters this November that would require San Francisco to develop plans to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and restore Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Whether to drain the Reservoir is a public-policy issue that has been debated for over 100 years. Decisions of this significance must be put to a vote of the water users outside of San Francisco or their representatives, as well as by San Francisco voters who use less than a third of the water.

The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) represents the water interests of 1.7 million residents, businesses, and community organizations in Alameda, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties, which depend on San Francisco's Regional Water System. BAWSCA's Board of Directors comprises elected and other public officials from the 26 member agencies that serve these communities.

BAWSCA's member agencies and their customers use two-thirds of the System's water and pay two-thirds of the cost of building, operating and maintaining the System, which is operated by San Francisco.

The Tuolumne River supplies 85 percent of the water delivered by the System. Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is a vital part of the System and stores 117 billion gallons of water, providing significant drought and seasonal water supply reliability for the region. Draining the Reservoir could be a serious threat to the users who depend on it and to the California economy.

If San Francisco or any other governmental body should decide to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, they must first determine how to protect the health, safety and economic well-being of the water users.

Any governmental body acting to drain the Reservoir must develop a plan for reliable alternative water storage and a supply of high-quality water acceptable to those who depend on the System.

The alternate storage and supply must be supported by legally enforceable agreements addressing water rights, ownership, operating responsibilities and other critical issues. Without such issues being resolved, no alternative supply can be as reliable as the existing supply.

If a decision is made to provide alternative water storage, it must be in operation, and all agreements be fully executed, before draining the Reservoir. Otherwise, it is likely that the alternative facilities would never be completed.

BAWSCA is therefore opposed to draining the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir unless and until the water customers outside San Francisco, who depend on the Reservoir or their representatives, vote on whether the resulting water supply reliability and water quality are acceptable and whether they are willing to pay their share of initial and on-going operating costs needed to implement such a plan.

If necessary, BAWSCA will pursue administrative or legislative action to protect the water users by securing a vote.

Meanwhile, any such efforts must not delay rebuilding the Bay Area's existing vulnerable water system before the next major earthquake.

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