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San Francisco water plans to get hearing tonight

At a public hearing in Modesto tonight, members of the Tuolumne River Trust are expected to protest a plan by San Francisco to divert a 25 million more gallons a day from the Tuolumne River.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Downey High School cafeteria, 100 Coffee Road.Taking more water from the Tuolumne is a key piece of a $4.3 billion plan to retool San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy water conveyance system.

The Tuolumne River Trust, with offices in San Francisco, Modesto and Sonora, promotes stewardship of the Tuolumne River and its tributaries with a goal of keeping watershed environmentally healthy.

Eric Wesselman, the group’s executive director, says San Francisco needs to invest more time and money in water conservation measures and developing groundwater reserves before it takes more water from the Tuolumne River.

San Francisco already diverts about 225 million gallons daily from the river, providing water to some 2.4 million people living in San Francisco, as well as San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Tuolumne counties.

Under the proposal, the SFPUC would build new pipeline sections, as well as upgrade existing 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.

SFPUC officials say the upgrades will help the water storage and conveyance system better withstand earthquakes while improving its overall efficiency.

Representatives of the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts are also expected to attend tonight’s public hearing. The irrigation districts hold legal rights to use water from the Tuolumne River that supercede water rights held by San Francisco.

San Francisco also has been talking to the Oakdale Irrigation District about a possible water transfer, beginning in 2010.

Such a move, if successful, would enable the SFPUC to store more water in its Hetch Hetchy Reservoir near the Tuolumne River’s headwaters in Yosemite.

The SFPUC would pay Oakdale to take surplus water, drawn from the Stanislaus River, shipping it to Modesto Reservoir via canal or pipeline. The amount of water would be equal to the amount San Francisco diverted from the upper Tuolumne.

That proposal, however, is not part of the plan under review tonight.