Community Columns

Patrick Koepele: Bee’s shot on Tuolumne River misses mark

Patrick Koepele
Patrick Koepele The Modesto Bee

In response to the short editorial, “ Tuolumne goes wild in San Francisco” (Oct. 4): While The Modesto Bee is usually fair in its treatment of issues involving the Tuolumne River Trust, it got it wrong in this case – in tone and fact.

I am disappointed that such a misinformed piece would be published in an era when collaboration on water conservation issues is of utmost importance for our future water sustainability, local economy and environment.

To correct the factual error, the editorial says “the protected portion of the river runs from beneath Hetch Hetchy’s O’Shaughnessy Dam to Don Pedro Reservoir.” That 34-mile portion of the river is protected, but the official Wild & Scenic designation on the Tuolumne also includes 49 miles above Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Also untrue is the implication in the statement, “The officially wild part of the Tuolumne River has nothing to do with San Francisco.”

If all of the Wild & Scenic portions of the Tuolumne are included, the designation has much to do with San Francisco. Last June, Yosemite National Park approved the Tuolumne River Wild and Scenic Management Plan. This plan will contribute to improving water quality in Tuolumne Meadows – removing a public fuel station, upgrading a wastewater treatment plant to a tertiary treatment facility, and restoring meadow and stream conditions – all of which will maintain or improve water quality in San Francisco and Stanislaus County.

The plan also will result in improved coordination with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to provide the best possible ecological water releases to the river below O’Shaughnessey Dam to ensure a healthy river system. Also of importance is that 2.6 million people in the Bay Area receive Tuolumne River water in their homes and businesses, water that comes directly from the Wild & Scenic section of river above Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

The editorial references a press release from a different environmental organization, Friends of the River, whose director was Tuolumne River Trust’s former executive director. This was an inappropriate place to raise this criticism – it’s a different organization and it’s a different issue that deserves its own coverage.

As for The Bee’s sarcastic question, “Wonder if anyone at the party will suggest San Francisco should do with less water – or is it just Stanislaus County that should sacrifice?”, the Trust has a well-established track record of advocating for improved water efficiency in the Bay Area. We were successful in opposing a fourth pipeline across the San Joaquin Valley in 2005, also in persuading the SFPUC to drop plans for diverting an additional 25 million gallons per day from the river in 2008, and in advocating for policies and programs that improve efficiency, recycling and reuse – all of which have resulted in a 15 percent reduction in water use since 2008 and decreased future demand projections.

I look forward to working more in Stanislaus County to realize similar water efficiency gains.

I invite residents of Stanislaus County to join the Trust in celebrating the remarkable achievement of the Wild and Scenic Tuolumne River – a success impossible without support from throughout the watershed.