Imagine hundreds of people rattling that chain-link fence surrounding the San Francisco Watershed, demanding that we stop treating it like Area 51.
That was the impression I left with after attending a San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting on Thursday, which discussed opening the Public Utilities Commission’s San Francisco watershed, a measure sponsored by supervisors John Avalos and Scott Wiener.
More than a dozen speakers, mostly cyclists, lined up to weigh in on the issue, thankfully keeping comments to two minutes or less. The supervisors had a full schedule with many important matters to attend to.
The naysayers came from the Sierra Club, Committee for Green Foothills and California Native Plant Society. The plant society doesn’t want to see non-native invasive species introduced to the watershed (although they’re already there), while the Sierra Club flat out believes humankind is the invasive species. There might be some agreement on that point from Native Americans.
A host of bureaucrats representing the public agencies tasked with managing the watershed laid out the issues and opportunities for granting increased access. Currently there’s a docent-led bicycle ride offered three days a week starting from the south end of the 23,000-acre watershed on Hwy 92. The complaint heard time again is that it’s inconvenient, especially for people living at the north end of the watershed, which would be all of San Francisco.
Steven Ritchie, SF PUC Assistant General Manager of the Water Enterprise, and Tim Ramirez, SF PUC Manager, Natural Resources Division, went into detail on a potential next step — allowing public access with only the requirement of online registration. It could happen within a year, as long as the other agencies involved buy into the plan, including the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), San Mateo County, and probably a half-dozen other agencies I’m not aware of.
What’s involved, exactly, took us down a rabbit hole of bureaucratic red tape, while Supervisor Avalos attempted to pin down a date for an opening while being careful to understand what measures would be necessary to mitigate potential environmental issues and protection for native species. The watershed has done its own environmental impact report, but it was not clear how that would play out with other agencies.
The area under discussion is mostly the north-south Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail that bisects the watershed. Avalos urged the PUC to work with other agencies to create an east-west trail to link up with open space areas on the Pacific Coast.
The PUC made it clear during its presentation that their first priority is to ensure water quality, which we can all agree is paramount. Let’s just hope there’s water to manage in the years ahead.
As I pointed out, Marin Municipal Water District allows public access and I haven’t heard about any water issues there. East Bay Municipal Utility District allows access on some of its land with paid permits ($10 for a year) and it’s one of the more conservative agencies. The Bureau of Land Management – Clear Creek area in San Benito County – also instituted an online permit to use its land. Bicycle access is free.
In his closing remarks Wiener said he believes there needs to be a balance protecting the watershed and allowing public access, while noting that an informed public with access to these areas can go a long way toward helping with the protection part.
Kudos to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. They handle their meetings efficiently and give everyone a chance to be heard. Avalos and Wiener have excellent credentials. I think the agencies and supervisors will do the right thing, no matter what the outcome.
For more about the watershed visit the Facebook site, “Open the SF Watershed.”