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River trust set to argue SF's water plan

Not one drop more from the Tuolumne River.

Period.

That's the message the Tuolumne River Trust will deliver Thursday in response to a San Francisco plan to take up to 25 million gallons a day more than the city does today.

"It doesn't make sense," said Eric Wesselman, the trust's executive director. "We want to show them that there are better, more (environmentally) sustainable alternatives."

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission already diverts about 225 million gallons daily, providing water to an estimated 2.4 million people in San Francisco and three Bay Area counties.

Wesselman and other members of the trust will offer their comments on the SFPUC's proposal, part of a $4.3 billion plan to upgrade, modernize and rebuild the city's Hetch Hetchy water conveyance system, during a Thursday evening public hearing in Modesto.

Representatives of the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts are expected to attend.

Since the MID and TID hold rights to Tuolumne River water that supercede those held by the SFPUC, San Francisco cannot take more river water unless the districts agree.

MID spokeswoman Kate Hora said it was likely the district would comment during the hearing and was preparing a detailed written response to the plan as well.

TID spokesman Tony Walker said his district would send a representative to the hearing.

The Tuolumne River Trust is trying to assemble a large delegation to attend the hearing.

"We're trying to mobilize as many people as we can," said Meg Gonzalez, director of outreach education for the trust. "We want San Francisco to reconsider (its) plan."

In early August, the trust released a report criticizing the city's plan to take additional Tuolumne water by 2030.

Susan Leal, SFPUC general manager, responded by saying that the proposed additional Tuolumne water diversion was just one of several possible alternatives contained in the draft program environmental impact report.

The report, Leal said at the time, "specifically analyzes a range of alternatives and potential supply sources to meet the expected demand of our customers by the year 2030, including alternatives that draw zero additional gallons from the Tuolumne River."

Wesselman noted, however, that the proposal calling for more water from the Tuolumne was identified as the SFPUC's "preferred alternative."

Construction, repairs, upgrades

The SFPUC's Hetch Hetchy conveyance system delivers water to wholesale and retail customers in San Francisco, as well as San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Tuolumne counties.

The Hetch Hetchy project proposes building pipeline sections, as well as upgrading pipelines, tunnels and dams used to move water originating in Yosemite National Park through the Northern San Joaquin Valley and into the Bay Area.

Repairs and upgrades, SFPUC officials have said, will help the water storage and conveyance system better withstand earthquakes while improving its efficiency.

While the SFPUC proposal includes new water recycling programs, groundwater development and other measures to ensure supply reliability and availability, especially during periods of drought, Wesselman said those programs don't go far enough.

"Undoubtedly," he said, "they're hunting for more water. That's what they want. (But) there are better ways for them to meet their future water needs than taking more water from the upper Tuolumne."

Additionally, Wesselman said the SFPUC's population growth projections were based upon faulty assumptions.

For example, he said it doesn't adequately address the effects of climate change, which will be a "significant variable" by 2030.

A copy of San Francisco's program environmental impact report on the Hetch Hetchy water project is available at the Stanislaus County Library main branch, 1500 I St., Modesto. The report also can be viewed and downloaded at www.sfgov.org/site/planning/mea or at http://PEIR.sfwater.org.

Bee staff writer Michael G. Mooney can be reached at mmooney@modbee.com or 578-2384.

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