SF considers $3.6 billion to fix area water system

By Olga R. Rodriguez, The Associated Press
Wednesday May 29, 2002

xSAN FRANCISCO — City utility officials approved a proposal Tuesday that could put a $3.6 billion bond measure to upgrade the aging Hetch Hetchy water system on the November ballot. 

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s proposal calls for renovations and seismic upgrades of the city’s water system that runs more than 160 miles from Yosemite National Park to the Bay Area and is about a century old. 

The commission has delayed a $4 billion overhaul of the system for more than a decade. An upgrade could prevent aqueducts from collapsing in a major earthquake. That would leave several San Francisco Bay area cities without their main source of water for up to two months, according to scientists. 

“This has been in the works for many, many years,” said commission president Ann Moller Caen. “We have reached a point where the commission feels very confident.” 

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Mayor Willie Brown would still have to approve the measure by the end of June for it to appear on the ballot. 

The system’s infrastructure is in serious disrepair and susceptible to failure in a major earthquake, according to the commission. Its pipes and tunnels cross three major earthquake faults — the San Andreas, Hayward and Calaveras lines. 

The system delivers water to 770,000 people in San Francisco and to 29 suburban wholesale outfits which in turn serve about 1.7 million people in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties. Seventy percent of Hetch Hetchy’s users don’t live in San Francisco, but in outlying cities such as Palo Alto, Mountain View, Redwood City, Fremont and parts of San Jose. 

The water system, however, is owned and administered by San Francisco. 

Under the proposal, the $3.6 billion tab would be paid through a series of water rate increases charged to the system’s 2.4 million customers. If approved, the average four-person household in San Francisco would see its monthly water bill more than triple from an average of $13 to nearly $44 by 2015. Suburban rates would rise to an estimated $80 from $38 today.