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