Plan to divert water to SF draws flood of concerns

The crowd was polite but to the point: Any plan that contemplates diverting more water from the Tuolumne River to the Bay Area won't float a boat in Stanislaus County.

That message was delivered Thursday evening to members of the San Francisco Planning Department, who traveled to Modesto seeking comment on a $4.3 billion plan to revamp the Hetch Hetchy water system.

The plan is outlined in an environmental impact report that fills five volumes with nearly 3,000 pages.

A key component would allow San Francisco to divert an extra 25 million gallons of water a day from the Tuolumne River by 2030.

"There's no more water you can get out of it," said Darryl Bramlette of Jamestown. "That money would be better spent looking at alternatives."

Bramlette was one of nine people who addressed the hearing, held in the Downey High School cafeteria.

Other speakers included the Modesto Irrigation District's Walt Ward, assist- ant general manager of water opera- tions; Sandra Wilson of the Yokuts chapter of the Sierra Club in Stanislaus County; and Nicole Sandkulla of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency.

All raised questions and concerns about San Francisco's plan to divert more water from the Tuolumne.

Ward, who after the meeting said the MID and the Turlock Irrigation District were preparing a written response to the plan, asked planners to extend the comment period another 30 days.

Under the current timetable, all comments must be submitted by 5 p.m. Oct. 1.

"This (proposal) has such far reaching implications for all of us," Ward said after the hearing. "It's 2,900 pages. We've got a team of people scouring this thing."

Bramlette, who said he at- tended a similar public hearing in Sonora on Wednesday even- ing, urged planners to study the feasibility of building a desalination plant on San Francisco Bay rather than try to squeeze more water out of the Tuolumne.

By doing so, Bramlette said, San Francisco "could be a leader in the development of desalinization for California and the rest of the nation."

San Francisco diverts about 225 million gallons daily from the Tuolumne River, delivering the water to 2.4 million people living in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Tuolumne counties.

Wilson of the Sierra Club said the environmental impact report needs to take into consideration all the plant and animal and human life that depend on the river.

"San Francisco stands to transfer so much from us living in Stanislaus County," she said.

Earthquake upgrades

Under its proposal, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission also would build water pipelines, as well as upgrade lines, tunnels and dams used to store and move water from Yosemite National Park, where it originates, across the valley and into the Bay Area.

The SFPUC says those upgrades are needed to help the Hetch Hetchy system better withstand earthquakes while improving its operating efficiency.

Sandkulla, who read a statement at the hearing, said that without the upgrades a major earthquake could disrupt the flow of water into the Bay Area for 30 to 60 days.

"The impacts to public health and safety," she said, "would be catastrophic. The economic impacts, not counting injuries and the loss of life, are estimated to be at least seven times the cost of rebuilding the aging water system."

A copy of the SFPUC's environmental impact report on the planned Hetch Hetchy water project is available at the main branch of the Stanislaus County Library, 1500 I St., Modesto. The report also can be viewed and downloaded at www.sfgov.org/site/planning/mea or PEIR.sfwater.org.Bee staff writer Michael G. Mooney can be reached at mmooney@modbee.com or 578-2384.

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