Bay Area Council Blog: Water Archive

Water flash

Optimism, Anxiety over Water Plan and Bay Restoration

The Bay Area Council Water Committee received mixed news as state regulators continued their plan to reclaim water from the Bay Area and other regions for the environment. On the one hand, the State Water Board has approved a controversial plan to reclaim water from the Bay Area and other regions for the environment. The decision came over the strong objections from the Bay Area Council that such a move could provoke a wave of building moratoria across the region. However, a last-minute voluntary agreement between the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and its partners and the state Natural Resources Agency could provide more targeted benefits to ecosystems without threatening the region’s water supply.

The Water Committee, meeting at Council member Venable, LLC, also discussed the broader 2019 water policy landscape with UC Berkeley’s Ethan Elkind, and the status of Bay restoration projects with San Mateo County Supervisor David Pine, who also chairs the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority. To engage with the Bay Area Council’s Water Committee, please contact Vice President, Public Policy Adrian Covert.


State Approves Water Cuts; SF Eyes Plan Warily

State regulators approved a controversial water plan late Wednesday (Dec. 12) that the Bay Area Council Economic Institute estimated could gut regional water supplies and provoke widespread building moratoria across the San Francisco, San Mateo and Alameda counties. Yet just before the plan was adopted, Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom unveiled a voluntary agreement between the State Natural Resources Agency and water users that would generate $1.7 billion to secure 700,000 acre-feet of new environmental flows each year for the San Joaquin River. Under the agreement, the Bay Area would give up 50,000 acre-feet of water each year to the environment and invest millions of dollars in habitat restoration along the Tuolumne River, which feeds the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and is a tributary to the larger San Joaquin River. San Francisco officials were reviewing the agreement but also indicated they were exploring a possible legal challenge. The Council’s Water Committee will discuss the implication of the agreement at its next meeting on December 17. To attend, or to engage with the Council’s Water Committee, please contact Public Policy Vice President Adrian Covert.


Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Dismantle Hetch Hetchy

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday (Oct. 17) pounded yet another nail in the coffin of a misguided effort to tear down the system that provides clean water and power to 2.7 million Bay Area residents and businesses. The Bay Area Council has been a leading champion of protecting and enhancing the Hetch Hetchy clean water and power system against a fringe Berkeley group that has fought for years to tear it down. The group vowed to take their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Council led the campaign with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and then-Mayor Ed Lee against a 2012 ballot initiative in San Francisco that would have opened the door to removing the Hetch Hetchy system. Dismantling Hetch Hetchy would cost an estimated $10 billion, wreak untold environmental damage and threaten the reliability of the region’s main water source. To engage in the Council’s water policy work, please contact Vice President Adrian Covert.

hetch trip

Hetch Hetchy Tour Highlights Latest Threat to the System

Bay Area Council Water Committee Chairs Andy Ball and Jim Levine this week led a coalition of business leaders on an overnight tour of the Hetch Hetchy regional water system, the Bay Area’s largest single source of fresh water. The Hetch Hetchy system serves 2.7 million Bay Area residents with some of the cleanest tap water in the world, and generates carbon free electricity for San Francisco’s public infrastructure such as MUNI, SFO and government buildings. The tour was organized by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Bay Area Council and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and traveled to the Pulgas Water Temple at Crystal Springs Reservoir, the Tesla Portal UV Water Treatment Facility, and the Moccassin Powerhouse, and culminated with an overnight stay at the scenic cabins at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

In 2012, the Bay Area Council led efforts to defeat a San Francisco-ballot measure to drain the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, and is today working to defend water from the reservoir against a misguided effort by the State Water Board that would result in a vast curtailment in the region’s dry-year water supplies. To engage on the Bay Area Council Water Committee, please contact Vice President Adrian Covert.


Flawed Plan Would Decimate Bay Area Water Reliability

(This opinion piece ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on Aug. 28, 2018)

By Jim Wunderman

Apart from a famous Mark Twain quote involving whiskey and fighting, no cliché about California water is more abused than the phrase “water wars.” However, in the instance of the State Water Board’s plan to restore the San Joaquin River, the label fits. War has been declared on the Bay Area’s largest source of freshwater, with grave implications for residents and businesses that go way beyond letting your lawn go brown.

At issue is a proposal to increase freshwater flows on the San Joaquin River. The plan targets the San Joaquin’s three major tributaries—the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne Rivers—and would require the farms and cities that divert water from those rivers to scale back their diversions to leave more water for the environment.

The Bay Area has a big dog in this fight. The Tuolumne River is the region’s single largest source of freshwater, used by 2.7 million people in 33 cities across Alameda, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which manages the Bay Area’s Tuolumne River supplies, estimates the Bay Area could be required to provide as much as 52 percent of any new flows mandated by the State Water Board’s plan, even though the region only diverts about 14 percent of the river’s water. Central Valley farmers, meanwhile, divert more than three times that volume.

Under this scenario, huge portions of the Bay Area would immediately face water rationing on the order of 20-30 percent beyond the conservation rates achieved during the recent drought. Since the Bay Area’s Tuolumne River water users are already among the most frugal in California (residents use just 54 gallons per capita per day compared to the statewide average of 82 gallons), some communities would be forced to achieve water use rates unseen anywhere in the developed world. Daly City, Hayward, Millbrae, Palo Alto, Redwood City, and even San Francisco could all be forced to impose emergency moratoria on building everything from schools and parks, to hospitals and housing.

The State Water Board has dismissed these concerns with the extraordinary argument that these very hardships would force the Bay Area to invest in creating alternative water supplies. Assuming developing alternative supplies at this scale is even possible or affordable, the Water Board plan is slated to go into effect in 2022. The Bay Area could be forced to operate under severe water rationing for possibly decades.

There’s a huge irony in the state using environmentalism to push policies that will inhibit growth in some of California’s most sustainable locales while promoting sprawl elsewhere. Perhaps most troubling, the plan provides no guarantees that water left in the Tuolumne River wouldn’t merely be diverted at downstream pumps operated by Central Valley farmers and Southern California users.

Since the Gold Rush, California has awarded legal rights to about five times more water than nature delivers. It’s no surprise that water policy decisions are rife with legal conflict, and rivers that once sustained hundreds of thousands of salmon have been reduced to tepid puddles. Without some sort of grand bargain that connects conservation and new environmental water with major new investments in storage, habitat, recycling, and conveyance, piecemeal efforts like the State Water Board’s plan are likely doomed to wallow for decades in fruitless litigation. Bay Area residents and businesses should contact California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird and urge him to reject the current Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan.


Sen. Feinstein Leads Landmark Shoreline Restoration Project Launch

Sen. Dianne Feinstein led a group of local, state and federal officials in a ceremony Friday in San Jose’s Alviso neighborhood launching the South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Project—a massive $177 million effort to build four miles of new levees and restore 3,000 acres of wetlands near San Jose. It’s the largest wetland restoration project outside the Florida Everglades. Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wunderman attended the event, where the Council was recognized for our stalwart support of the project and a 2015 report that highlighted the region’s economic vulnerability to extreme flooding. The Council also received praise for helping lead the successful 2016 regional Measure AA campaign, which will raise $500 million over the next 20 years for multi-benefit restoration and flood protection projects along the San Francisco Bay shoreline.

The Shoreline project has been in the works since at least 2005, following Sen. Feinstein’s leadership in facilitating the historic acquisition of the South Bay Salt Ponds from Cargill and the Council’s effective advocacy in securing federal funding. With funding in place, construction is slated to begin next summer with completion in the next 3-5 years.

Enormous thanks are due to the hard work of the Bay Area Council partners who helped make this announcement a reality, including Sen. Feinstein, San Mateo County Supervisor David Pine, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the California Coastal Conservancy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, and Save the Bay. To learn more about the Bay Area Council’s work on climate resilience, please contact Vice President of Public Policy Adrian Covert.


A Gusher of Water News

Water news was flowing this week as the Bay Area Council hit back at a new attempt to raze Hetch Hetchy reservoir, applauded funding for increased water storage projects and advocated against proposed state cutbacks that could cripple housing production.

First up, the Council responded to a recent meeting that a fringe group seeking to tear down the Bay Area’s Hetch Hetchy clean water and power system held with U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke as they sought to enlist his support for their wild scheme. The Council for decades has been a leading advocate for protecting Hetch Hetchy, which provides clean, reliable water and carbon-free energy to 2.6 million Bay Area residents and businesses. The Council led the opposition campaign against a 2012 San Francisco ballot measure by the same group that was aimed at draining and replacing Hetch Hetchy. Voters soundly rejected the measure by 77 percent. A state appeals court also recently rejected a lawsuit by the group to dismantle the Hetch Hetchy water and power system.

Read the Council’s statement on the Zinke meeting>>

Next up, the Council applauded a decision by the California Water Commission on Tuesday (July 24) to an award $2.5 billion to eight water storage projects across California, including nearly $1 billion for two major projects in the Bay Area. The funding came from Proposition 1, a Bay Area Council-backed water bond approved by voters in November 2014.

The Commission approved $485 million for the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Pacheco Reservoir Project, a new 319-foot-tall dam Santa Clara County, and $459 million for the Contra Costa Water District to raise Los Vaqueros reservoir by 55 feet. Combined, the two projects would add a total of 255,000 acre-feet of new water for Bay Area residents and businesses. An acre-foot is roughly equal to the amount of water an average household uses in one year. The Sites Reservoir, another project the Council supported, got $816 million. The Council’s Water Committee had identified all three projects as top priority for regional water security.

And finally, the Council is continuing its advocacy against regulations the State Water Resources Control Board is considering that would severely reduce water supplies for 2.6 million Bay Area residents and cripple the region’s ability to build housing. An analysis by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute estimates that the cuts proposed by the state water board could provoke a wave of building moratoria across much of San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Alameda counties.

To learn more about the Bay Area Council Water Committee, please contact Vice President Adrian Covert.


November Ballot Positions Announced

The Bay Area Council Executive Committee has adopted positions on a range of state and local ballot measures that voters will decide in November.


Proposition 1: Authorizes $4 billion in bonds for affordable housing programs and veterans’ home loans.

Proposition 2: Authorizes state to use revenue from Proposition 63 (2004) for $2 billion in bonds for homelessness prevention housing.

Proposition 3: Authorizes $8.9 billion in bonds for water-related infrastructure and environmental projects.

Proposition 4: Authorizes $1.5 billion in bonds for children’s hospitals.

Proposition 5: Amends Proposition 13 to allow homeowners 55 and older to transfer their property tax assessments from their current home to a new home anywhere in California.

Proposition 11: Allow ambulance providers to require workers to remain on-call during breaks paid.

Oakland Children’s Initiative: Proposed measure would support early childhood education programs and services through $198 annual parcel tax.

San Mateo County transportation: Funds wide range of traffic relief and transportation improvement projects over 30 years with ½-cent sales tax increase.

Marin County transportation: Extends existing voter-approved ½-cent sales tax to fund wide range of traffic relief and transportation improvement projects.


Proposition 6: Repeals 2017 fuel tax and vehicle fee increases (SB 1) to fund road, bridge and highway repairs and requires public vote on future increases.

Proposition 10: Repeals the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act and allows local governments to enact rent control.


Responding to New Threat to Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System

The Bay Area Council today (July 24) issued the following statement following a recent visit by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to Yosemite National Park where he signaled that the Trump administration may consider a misguided and dangerous plan to tear down the Hetch Hetchy clean water and energy system serving 2.6 million California residents and businesses.

“Spending $10 billion tearing down perfectly good water storage infrastructure would merely be a monumental waste of time and money, if it wasn’t also a cynical and nefarious plot to steal the region’s water supply under the patina of environmentalism,” said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council. “Hetch Hetchy is the primary water source for 2.6 million Bay Area residents and businesses. Eliminating water storage at a time of increased drought is economic suicide, but dehydrating the leading nation’s innovation economy is economic sabotage. We invite Sec. Zinke to meet with us and learn why this disastrous proposal has been defeated over and over again in the courts and at the ballot box and why we would be better served investing to expand our water storage infrastructure rather than getting rid of it.”

The Bay Area Council for decades has been the leading advocate for maintaining the regional Hetch Hetchy system, which provides reliable, clean drinking water to 2.6 million people and businesses in 30 cities across four counties, and generates 1.6 billion kilo-watt hours of carbon free energy each year. According to estimates from the California Department of Water Resources, draining and replacing the reservoir would cost $10 billion, and result in a less reliable, lower quality, and more expensive water supply and increased carbon emissions.

Sixty percent of California’s managed water supplies, including Hetch Hetchy, originate in the Sierra Nevada as snowpack. State water officials estimate the Sierra snowpack will shrink between 25 and 40 percent by 2050, and a recent UCLA study estimates that the snowpack could be entirely gone by 2100. In 2012, the Bay Area Council led the opposition against a San Francisco ballot measure that would have forced the city to spend $8 million studying draining and replacing Hetch Hetchy. The measure was rejected by 77 percent of city voters.


Three important Bay Area water storage projects that originally were slated to receive zero or only a small portion of available state funding are now in line to get a healthy share of voter-approved Proposition 1 money after the Bay Area Council intervened. The proposed projects—the Los Vaqueros Reservoir Expansion, Pacheco Reservoir Expansion, and the new Sites Reservoir—are critical to improving the region’s drought resilience. Following an advocacy push by the Council and other groups, the California Water Commission on Thursday (June 28) reversed an earlier staff recommendation that failed to allocate any of $2.7 billion in Prop 1 funding to the Los Vaqueros and Pacheco projects and provided just half of what was being requested for Sites. The Commission is expected to finalize the funding awards at its July meeting. To engage in the Council’s Water Committee, please contact Vice President of Public Policy Adrian Covert.