On September 18 the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) voted to terminate negotiations for a transfer (sale) of 2,240 acre feet of water to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) to supplement dry year supplies. The decision was met with enthusiasm by farmers, environmentalists and the City of Modesto.
Had the water transfer gone through, the SFPUC would have been obligated to pay MID $1.5 million per year regardless of whether the water was used or not. Environmental review conducted by the SFPUC in 2008 projected the water would only be needed in one of five years. However, since 2008 water use in the SFPUC service territory, which includes San Francisco, San Mateo County and parts of Santa Clara and Alameda Counties, has declined by 15%.
Critics argued the water was no longer needed and would be a waste of money. Investing the funds in water conservation would be a much cheaper way to protect against droughts without causing further harm to the Tuolumne River, which supplies 85% of the SFPUC’s water.
The water transfer was studied in 2008 as part of the $4.6 billion plan to retrofit the Hetch Hetchy Water System. At the time, San Francisco and its wholesale customers in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda Counties were using more than 250 million gallons of water per day (mgd). Last year that figure dropped to less than 215 mgd. Future demand projections also have declined dramatically.
Had the transfer proceeded, the SFPUC and MID would have begun negotiating a second contract to transfer an additional 25,000 acre feet of water to the Bay Area.
The SFPUC provides water to San Francisco and 26 other Bay Area cities and water agencies. 85% of SFPUC water comes from the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park. Currently, 60% of the Tuolumne’s water is diverted for agriculture and urban uses, and as a result the River has experienced severe decline. The salmon population has plummeted from historical highs of 130,000 fish per year to less than 1,000 in five of the past six years. Water quality in the lower Tuolumne River is listed as impaired.
For more information, please visit http://www.tuolumne.org/content/article.php/20120820135626172