What we've asked of The Watershed's owners, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Watershed's indirect owners, the city of San Francisco and San Mateo County in which the 31 square mile watershed resides:
October 29, 2015
The Mayor of San Francisco, Edwin Lee
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors
The Commissioners of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission The Supervisors of San Mateo County
Director of San Mateo County Parks, Marlene Finley
Members of the San Mateo County Parks and Recreation Committee
Dear Mayor Lee, Honorable Supervisors, Commissioners, Director Finley, and Committee Members:
OpenTheWatershed.org is a local environmental and outdoor organization that has been working with the San Francisco Public Utility Commission to improve public access to its 23,000 acre Crystal Springs Watershed in San Mateo County (Figure 1). While we recognize that the SFPUC’s primary mission is to provide drinking water to San Francisco and beyond, we believe that this mission is fully compatible with improved public access to the area.
OpenTheWatershed.org strongly supports the public access improvements now planned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, but would like to see a more far-reaching plan pursued.
SFPUC Assistant General Manager Steve Ritchie summarized the SFPUC’s plans for near and medium-term public access improvements in a December 2014 letter summarized in Figure 2. At a San Francisco Board of Supervisors hearing this April, Mr. Ritchie and Tim Ramirez, the SFPUC’s Watershed Manager, presented these plans. A large majority of the several dozen speakers at the hearing were strongly in favor of the plans and our outreach efforts have consistently found the public is excited to visit the Watershed.
Our organization’s primary goal is to improve public access to the Watershed, but we are also an environmental organization, and we applaud the SFPUC for its careful studies, adherence to environmental regulations and its ultimate decision to move forward with these projects.
We understand that some groups, such as the Committee for Green Foothills, would prefer the Watershed remain closed to the public, but we believe that the currently planned improvements, improvements encouraged by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and other trail openings (Figures 3a and 3b) will not harm the area’s delicate environment or the viability of our water supply for the following reasons:
• Minimal Impact - Most of the planned improvements do not require new trails or any construction but will simply open existing service roads to the public. Where trail construction is required, it can be done in an environmentally responsible way, as is standard practice in the Bay Area’s other Watersheds and open space areas.
• Water Security – New routes planned for public access are no closer to the reservoirs than existing, publicly accessible routes. While wildfires and illegal activity in the Watershed are minor concerns, the proposed new permit system will ensure that visitors know and agree to abide by the SFPUC’s rules. Responsible visitors will act as “eyes on the trail” to help deter illegal activities.
• Water system improvements – The Crystal Springs Watershed is largely a back up system to the Hetch Hetchy Water supply. The $283 million upgrade to the Harry Tracy Water Treatment Plant above Millbrae will greatly increase the reliability of this backup. Simultaneously, the seismic upgrades to the Hetch Hetchy system will greatly decrease the need for Crystal Springs to act as an emergency supply. Combined, these construction projects will more than compensate for any hypothesized additional risk to the system caused by increased public access.
As we look forward to the planned 2016 completion of the projects currently underway, we urge the SFPUC to take concrete steps to open the Whiting Ridge Trail and plan out additional environmentally sustainable openings for routes to the coast and easily accessed loop routes (figures 3 and 4). The benefits are compelling:
- Regional trail connections – These projects would link the Watershed to surrounding local, state, and GGNRA parkland and establish a truly interconnected trail system a system remarkably similar to, yet larger than that operated with the cooperation of the Marin Municipal Water District. This would be a tremendous resource for residents of northern San Mateo County and southern San Francisco.
- Public Health and Happiness - Both of these areas, many of whose residents are low-income, are currently underserved by open space. Access improvements could significantly improve the health, happiness and quality of life.
- Achievability – Rarely is there an opportunity to do so much good with so little investment: As noted above, the trails we seek to open are, for the most part, existing dirt service roads, already routinely used by maintenance trucks. Little new construction would be required, meaning that both cost and potential environmental impact would be minimized.
Legislative Advocate, OpenTheWatershed.org
cc: Steve Abbors, Executive Director, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Brian Aviles, Senior Planner, Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Tim Ramirez, Natural Resources and Land Division Manager, SFPUC
OPEN THE SF WATERSHED
OpenTheWatershed.org needs your help. We have immediate openings for volunteer specialists in the following areas:
- Writing – Both marketing focused prose and technical reports and plans.
- Graphic Arts/Design – maps, presentation graphics
- Videographers, video editors
- Web designers, Social media experts
- Facility designers, architects, civil engineers
- Biologists – environmental planners, specialists in endangered species management
- Government relations
Background photo by Neil Berkley