In the contemporary society water and water bodies are the most essential assets for the survival of all living things. In this regard, it is imperative for the authority to ensure that effective policies are formulated and implemented to ensure proper water conservation as well efficient water supply in all sectors.
The San Francisco Bay covers about 75,000 square miles. Also, it constitutes the biggest estuary on the west coast of America. The watershed extends to about 500 miles from the Cascade Range to the Tehachapi Mountains. Certainly, almost half of the surface water in California originates from snow or rain that falls within the watershed and flows downstream to the Pacific Ocean (Palaima, 45).
Moreover, San Francisco Bay watershed serves as an essential source of water to about 25 million people in California. Also, it serves irrigation for approximately 7000 square miles of agricultural land. The watershed boosts vital economic resources like ports, California's water supply infrastructure, major highways, energy lines, deepwater shipping and railroad corridors. Currently, there has been intense planning and review aimed at protecting this essential resource for future use. This has been triggered by constant decline in the quality of water as well as escalating demand for limited water resource.
San Francisco Bay comprises diversity of fresh water, salt water and brackish water aquatic habitats. Furthermore, numerous threatened and endangered aquatic species are available in the San Francisco Bay including steelhead, delta smelt, winter run Chinook salmon and spring run Chinook salmon among others (Dreyfus, 74).
For a long time, the San Francisco Bay has experienced significant economic and environmental challenges. Certainly, escalating demand for water, population growth, water pollution and loss of habitat continue to pose difficulties in planning for the future of the watershed. The watershed has one of the biggest water supply systems in the world namely&State Water Project Exit and federal Central Valley Project. The two projects occupy 16.8 million acre-feet of joint water storage capacity. In addition, they jointly deliver an average of 10 million acre-feet per annum for industrial, irrigation and municipal users (Dreyfus, 82).
Moreover, the Water Quality Standards in San Francisco are surpassed for invasive species, pesticides, mercury, and other toxic and metal substances. Numerous miles of beaches are also impaired for terrible levels of bacteria due to crumbling sewage infrastructure and sewage spills. Also, obliteration of habitat has eliminated over 90% of the shoreline wetlands and 40% of the entire San Francisco Bay marine ecosystem over years.
Furthermore, the San Francisco Bay is facing numerous challenges that are concentrated and magnified in the "Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta" which is the main source of water in California. As a result of water pollution and water exports, there has been a decline in the number of Bay Delta fish, leading to the collapse of salmon fishing industry in California. Moreover, irregular droughts contribute to reduction in water supply for cities and agriculture, and eventually, this contributes to negative economic conditions.
Protecting San Francisco Bay
As a result of exceptional characteristics, San Francisco Bay should be protected. In this regard, the responsible authority must control the adverse effects of discharged waste. In addition, it is imperative to ensure that the widespread upstream water diversions are limited and their effects controlled. In an attempt to address these issues, the California legislature introduced State Water Resources Control Board and 9 Regional Water Boards in 1949. These bodies were operating within the provisions of the California Water Code (Carter, 85). Their duties were coordination at state level and regional familiarity with local conditions and needs. However, their common goal is the management of water quality and administration of water pollution control laws in California. In addition, Environmental Protection Agency was introduced to provide budgetary authority and policy guidance to the regional water boards.
Relationship between Hetch Hetchy and San Francisco
All water areas, private utilities and cities that are represented by the "Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency" always rely on the Hetch Hetchy system for efficient supply of water to safeguard health and economic welfare of about 1.7 million citizens and businesses. Jointly, the BAWSCA agencies contribute to two-thirds of water consumption from the system as well as paying for two-thirds of its maintenance (Phillips, 53). Therefore, the BAWSCA agencies are main shareholders in making sure that the system is a consistent source of high quality water.
While owned and costructed by San Francisco, the Hetch Hetchy system was aimed at benefiting the entire population of San Francisco Bay Area. Numerous cities as well as water agencies that are currently part of BAWSCA convinced the congress to pass the "Raker Act" in 1913. This law permitted federal lands within Sierra Nevada Mountains together with Hetch Hetchy Valley, located in Yosemite National Park, to be used to build the water system. Numerous Bay Area communities supported the initiative and that played a major role in persuading the Congress to pass the Act and the President to sign it.
In addition, construction of the Hetch Hetchy system continued for over 20 years and the water was delivered for the first time in 1934. As the system aged, particularly in the era of increased safety awareness, it emerged that there was need to conduct a total overhaul of the system. As a result, BAWSCA agencies supported the idea of the capital improvement program, which was adopted in 2002 by SFPUC, and are observing its implementation. Also, the agencies are implementing water recycling and conservation projects to assist in preserving water resource for their communities. In addition, the agencies endeavor to identify alternative sources of water supply.
Actually, from Hetch Hetchy water flows by gravity through 160 miles of pipes and tunnels from Yosemite to the San Francisco Region. However, the remaining 15% of water originates from runoff in the Peninsula and Alameda watersheds. This local water is usually captured in reservoirs which are located in Alameda and San Mateo counties.
The Issues Experienced by Hetchy Hetchy Currently
In the Bay Area, about 2.5 million people in San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Clara counties enjoy drinking water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Actually, Pristine snowmelt always flow from the Sierra region to the city and offers clean hydropower for the municipal facilities and services in San Francisco.
From 1923, when the damming of Hetch Hetchy was done to date, numerous activists have supported the draining of the water reservoir and searching for a substitute power and water sources. However, if the idea of draining the Hetch Hetchy reservoir is pursued, for California this would imply taking a worse direction.
In 2006, the Department of Water Resource performed an assessment of the issues connected with draining Hetch Hetchy. Although the department did not make any recommendations, the assessment established that the plan to drain Hetch Hetchy could incur a cost of about $10 billion. This is because the process would require major investments in power and water infrastructure, and probably impact the reliability of the hydropower and water in the Bay Area. Therefore, if the process of draining the Hetch Hetchy water system was considered as an expensive and risky idea in 2006, then, it can be a more expensive and riskier plan today.
Currently, people living in California experienced a mandatory water rationing after drought hit the state for three years. As a result, many people who depend on the water system were affected by the crisis. In order to address such a crisis, there is need to increase funding of the Hetch Hetchy water system project (Carter, 74).
Another major challenge facing the Hetch Hetchy water system is that the population of California is expected to increase from 38 million to 50 million people by 2040. In addition, it is expected that by 2040, the climate change will contribute to frequent and longer droughts. Therefore, the mechanisms of eradicating California water crisis cannot be addressed effectively if a plan implemented will result to less water storage in the future, for instance, draining of the Hetch Hetchy system.
Customers who rely on the Hetch Hetchy water system are currently confronting these issues for the sake of future. Regardless of having the least per capita water consumption in California, San Francisco has partnered with close to 30 suburban wholesale customers and it has made commitments aimed at minimizing water consumption to limit water it takes from Tuolumne River. In order to diversify its water supplies, suburban and San Francisco ratepayers are currently investing millions with the aim of developing new ground water wells and recycle and re-use treated storm water, waste water and gray water as well as construct a pilot desalination plant with other agencies in the Bay Area.
In this regard, in a state, which is already burdened with the budget crisis, climate crisis, transportation, delta crisis, aging water crisis, and economic crisis among other issues, draining the Hetch Hetchy water system is a wrong idea and it should not be a priority. This is because the plan is just an extravagance which people of California cannot afford. Thus, more focus should be put on confronting the economic and environmental challenges.
Other Water Resources Affecting San Francisco
The main state assessment mechanism for investigating the condition of the ground water resources in the State was produced by the "State Water Resources Control Board" and it was updated every 2 years. The report was known as "305(b) Report". The report suggested that more than one-third of the ground water in the State is contaminated to an extent that it cannot be used for all the purposes regarded by the State as desirable and appropriate. In addition, the updated report suggested that each of the five most common and harmful classes of contaminants separately contributes to the impairment of over 15% of the ground water assessed in the State as measured by surface area (Oros, 65). Additionally, the report recommended that the origins of contamination of ground water are diverse and numerous. The main actions and sources persist to contribute to the pollution of ground water such as landfills, leaking underground storage tanks, septic systems, and agricultural operations.
However, according to the investigation of NRDC with regard to 305(b) Report, there were some inaccuracies in the report. According to NRDC, the report had problems like data-collection inaccuracies and a lack of authentication for basic assumptions. As a result, NRDC disregarded the report and termed it unreliable. A few days after NRDC released their report, the "State Water Resources Control Board" admitted that there were questionable findings in the report.
Although there are many other agencies concerned with the assessment of the underground water, many of them fail to provide satisfactory information on how to effectively evaluate and guard the quality of ground water in San Francisco. For the purpose of exemplifying the condition of the ground water resources of San Francisco, and ensuring effective assessment by agencies, NRDC tried to investigate and analyze the available data on the condition of the ground water and common contaminants (Bailey, 76). However, the data that NRDC relied on was received from various government agencies. NRDC used the data received, its professional judgment as well as other information to arrive at a conclusion in regard to common contaminants of ground water and their source. These include: agriculture, land disposal, leaking underground storage tanks, septage, and industrial point sources.
Furthermore, NRDC conducted an independent study evaluating quality of drinking water in various cities. The water supplies, tap water quality and Environmental Protection Agency conformity were assessed. Moreover, NRDC studied various sources of pollution that can contaminate lakes and ground water that people in cities consume.
According to the findings of NRDC, even if there has been an improvement in the cleanliness of water in most cities during the past years, cities like San Francisco, Albuquerque and Fresno have water that is impure. Therefore, consumption of such water leads to possible health risks especially in infants, pregnant women, the elderly, children and people with weak immune system.
As a result, NRDC suggests that, in order to enhance the quality of water and protect people's health, there is need to enhance the distribution and treatment of water and invest in effective water infrastructure. In addition, the NRDC recommended that proper mechanism to be established to safeguard water sources.
In order to address water issues in San Francisco, there are several steps that can be taken to reduce or eradicate the challenges. First, water conservation is the most fundamental step in addressing water issues in San Francisco. In this regard, the authority must ensure that the laws are enacted to ensure that water resources are used efficiently and to eliminate any wastage especially during the process of water distribution. In addition, it is imperative to construct water storage facilities to ensure that during rain seasons water is not lost.
San Francisco is among the areas with poor ground water monitoring. Although it is hard to monitor underground water, people can allow water officials to measure the quality of water in their houses. Therefore, there is need for the establishment of new ways of assessing the quality of water, for example, use of helicopters to conduct electromagnetic surveys to identify the geometry of the underground water.
Increase Fines for Illegal Water Use
As a way of conservation of water resources, it is also imperative to impose fines on those who use water illegally in order to discourage such acts. This implies that laws must be enacted to control the use of water so that those who violate such laws are fined as a way of ensuring efficient use of water, discouraging wastage and enhancing provision of high quality water.
Agriculture Water Management Plans
For the purpose of water conservation, there is need to enact effective laws that stipulate how water should be used, particularly in regard to irrigation. This is because irrigation can increase water wastage if not handled properly. Such laws will prevent farmers from using excessive water, and encourage them to only use water that is enough for their farms. In addition, such laws must discourage direct discharge of contaminated water from farms to water sources. This will help in promoting public health.