Preview of Hetch Hetchy removal?

The city of Monterey’s water supply is in transition.  Apparently the dam upon which they have relied for years, the San Clemente Dam, is filling with sediment and has been subjecting the Carmel River to accelerated erosion since 1921 (erosion is a balance between sediment coming in and sediment washing away, and the dam blocks the sediment coming in, leading to net washing away of the riverbanks).  The dam is in the process of being removed, while the city debates a new water supply – a combination of desalination, aquifer storage and recovery, and conservation.  The California Coastal Conservancy has also been involved in removing the dam and restoring habitat for steelhead trout and the California red-legged frog.  But between environmentalists and citizens of the Monterey peninsula, people aren’t that happy.

Environmentalists are disappointed that the city is headed towards desalination, an energy-intensive process that could possibly damage the environment through the discharge of its waste brine (the verdict is still out over how best to manage the wastes from desalination).  There’s already a desalination plant in Marina that sits idle because of high energy costs, and state utilities regulators rejected the Environmental Impact Review for the new desalination plant.  Recently, dozens of residents near the San Clemente Dam protested the use of a local roadway as the key access point for large trucks and other heavy equipment in connection with the $83 million project. Dam removal has been delayed by a month.

Is this a harbinger for how Hetch Hetchy removal would proceed?  I wouldn’t be surprised.  The Hetch Hetchy is a larger system, with estimates of $1-10 billion for its removal.  The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has presented a series of facts to rebut some of the aspects to appear in the November ballot measure to study removal of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.  Among other things, SFPUC notes that there is no good way to replace the storage capacity of the Hetch Hetchy (bigger than the other 5 drinking water reservoirs in the San Francisco Bay supply system combined) or the 500 MW of power from the O’Shaughnessy Dam.  Plus, the idea has been studied many times before in the past 20 years.  Furthermore, the cost would be prohibitive — as much as $700 to $2800 more per year for the average customer.  Sounds to me like a bad idea…

Plus, we have this example from Monterey that even when being removed, people find new ways to protest the dam/reservoir in question.  What a headache.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?

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