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Hetch Hetchy restoration could cost $10 billion

By Erica Holt, Bay City News Service

July 20, 2006

Restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley could cost anywhere from $3 to $10 billion, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Department of Water Resources, which also warns that while conceptually feasible, more research is needed before dismantling a system supplying water to 85 percent of Bay Area residents.

Environmental groups, including Environmental Defense and Restore Hetch Hetchy, pushed for the study, and are optimistic about news that it may be possible to restore a valley that naturalist John Muir once fought to preserve before it flooded after Congress allowed the damning of the Tuolumne River in 1913.

Others, including many public officials, remain skeptical about the sky-high costs and possible detriment to the Bay Area's water supply.

The report, a summary of two decades of research, found draining the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and dismantling the O'Shaugnessy Dam while maintaining water quality, supply, storage and power generation could cost up to $10 billion. That's higher than the environmental groups' estimates of less than $2 million, which was based on less comprehensive factors, including costs of dam removal.

The Department of Water resources stopped short of issuing formal recommendations for moving forward.

Gary Bardini, chief hydrologist for the state who led the study, said his team's review of 20 years of research found "more lack of information than information'' and referred to the report as "conceptual,'' because of missing information about benefits, dam removal and water replacement.

Input from stakeholders, including the public, federal agencies, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Native American tribes will be necessary for any future action, he said.

The SFPUC runs the water system that brings an average of 220 million gallons of water per day from the Sierra Nevada to about 2.4 million customers in the San Francisco Bay Area, and generates an annual average of 1.7 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectricity.

"The report highlights that the prospect of removing the O'Shaugnessy Dam will result in higher costs and monumental challenges to the water system in the Bay Area,'' said SFPUC general manager Susan Leal. "No one says where the $10 billion will come from,'' she said, to dismantle "a system that provides clean water and power to the Bay Area.''

Sen. Dianne Feinstein issued a statement Wednesday expressing optimism that the report will end any further consideration of dissembling Hetch Hetchy.

"The bottom line is that Hetch Hetchy is a critical source of water and power for the State of California. Draining the reservoir would be far too expensive and leave the State vulnerable to both drought and blackout,'' she said.

In 1987, Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel initially proposed the restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley. Then, in 2004, Environmental Defense issued a report estimating restoration costs would be less than $2 billion, and stepped up advocacy efforts.

San Francisco Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, D-Contra Costa, and Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Yolo, also requested the study, which took over a year for the state to complete.

Assemblywoman Lois Wolk said Wednesday that "both of us saw an opportunity to restore a great treasure,'' adding she "continues to believe'' restoration is possible.

"It is in our reach to restore this valley without compromising California's long term water and power supply,'' she said.

Tom Graf, of Environmental Defense, said he remains hopeful about the report's findings, but stopped short of agreeing with the estimated costs, claiming that the state's alternatives rely on expensive dams and would replace far more water than would be lost.

Jerry Cadagan of Restore Hetch Hetchy said advocates would continue fighting.

A lot of people doubted the restoration was possible, he said.

"The good news is that it is feasible,'' he said. "We think it can be done.''

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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