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Residents Question Water Recycling plant proposed for Golden Gate Park

By Jonathan Farrell
Posted Oct 3, 2010 in Environment
A proposed water recycling facility at the western edge of Golden Gate Park met up with critical questioning and reservations from residents at a community meeting on Sept. 23.
Over 30 people attended the two-hour meeting that Thursday evening at the Golden Gate Park Senior Center on Fulton Street, near 37th Ave. Some of those concerned about the water-recycling project came from other neighborhoods, as far as West Portal and Noe Valley.
Meeting coordinator Carrie Dovzak, and project manager Barbara Palacios speaking on behalf of the San Francisco Westside Recycled Water Project made a power-point presentation of slides, consisting of outlines and general information.
They both insisted that this “Notice of Preparation” meeting was strictly to gather public comment. But that no questions were to be answered. A court stenographer was present to take notes.
This did not set well with the audience. Some residents expressed confusion by the procedure and purpose of the meeting. Many said that they had received little to no outreach about this proposed recycled water facility.
Dovzak said that this was third community meeting in which she made this presentation about the project. The first was held in June of 2008.
In conjunction with the SF Public Utilities Commission, Recreation & Parks Dept, the Planning Dept and other entities, the proposed water-recycling project would help to meet water needs for Golden Gate Park.
Current estimates claim that San Francisco’s water use is at 85 million gallons per day. Of that, Golden Gate Park and surrounding facilities, like Lincoln Park, etc, uses less than 2 million gallons of water daily. Peter Drekmeier of the Tuolumne River Trust who was among the many who got up and made comments mentioned this estimate.
If built the water recycling plant were built it would improve irrigation systems and help reduce water use costs. The SF PUC claims that without an extensive irrigation system Golden Gate Park and surrounding areas such as Lincoln Park, etc. would not continue to survive.
In printed handouts provided to the audience it was noted that at one time, back in 1932 Golden Gate Park had a water treatment plant, one of the first of its kind in the nation.
The plant would cover one acre of a four-acre site along Martin Luther King Drive at the western end of Golden Gate Park not far from the Murphy Windmill and adjacent soccer fields near the Beach Chalet.
The demand and usage of water is increasing as the City’s population rises. Water costs also are increasing. The proposed facility would help reduce costs and free up existing ground water for other more important uses such as for drinking water. This recycled water would be used for irrigation of grass, plants and trees.
Yet in the many comments made, there was a request for more precise detail in the proposed plans. Doug Nelson one of the authors of the Master Plan for Golden Gate Park said this proposal was “very disappointing,” because the Master Plan for the Park clearly states that the western edge is to maintain its environmental integrity.
Also, “The Park already has a contained/closed water system of its own, with wells and existing irrigation pipelines,” said Nelson. To move forward on this plan, “basing it on cost then we all loose, he said, because how will this recycled water be paid for?”
Drekmeier and Richard Fong were the only ones in the audience that are in favor of the proposal. Yet even they voiced concerns.
While using recycled water strictly for irrigation of plants is a feasible and environmentally friendly idea, more environmental impact detail must be provided to review. If using reverse osmosis techniques as is proposed by the project, “that makes it close to drinking water quality, this is a very expensive process,” said Drekmeier.
Full range details were not clear. If the park already has its own water system why is SF PUC involved? Are the plans to then allow the ground water to be mixed in with tap water once the ground water is available?
“Proposing to build the City's recycling capacity is most definitely a step in the right direction,” said Mike Marshall Executive Director of the Restore Hetch Hetchy project. He talked to this reporter after the meeting. He thinks recycling water is a good idea.
“However, he pointed out, “just as building a reservoir in Yosemite National Park was a mistake in 1913,” I and the Hetch Hetchy project believes building a water recycling plant in Golden Gate Park is also a bad idea,” said Marshall.
“We will be strongly advocating for the SFPUC to identify one or more alternative locations outside of Golden Gate Park or any other park. Not only is it a bad idea but it risks undermining growing support for the production and use of recycled water,” Marshall said.
Residents at the meeting and after the meeting presented many questions and feelings in their comments. The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance and the Sierra Club want more details of the plan.
And many in the audience that evening said they do not support this idea until further details are disclosed and a full Environmental Impact Report is provided.
No detail was given for alternative sites and people questioned why such a facility had to be in Golden Gate Park. And, why alternative sites were not mentioned in the presentation.
“This is for an industrial use plant in a recreational area,” said Mary Ann Miller, a former City Planner. One agency (the SF PUC) is using another (SF Rec. & Parks), to build an extensive facility with pipelines, etc. just to water grass and trees? Miller questioned what the real motivations behind this plan are. She noted the California Environmental Quality Act (or CEQA) has strict regulations.
Katherine Howard of the GGP Preservation Alliance and community advocate Nancy Wuerful were among some of the most concerned and spoke imploringly.
Both noted that the Park is one of the last open spaces in the City and that to have a water treatment facility in GGP would take away a part of the open space from the people. Howard asked the audience to try to envision a better use for one of the last open spaces and to protect it for future generations.
Wuerfel was adamant as her voice got louder, “this is the most expensive way to recycle water, it is like watering the lawn with diamonds,” she said.
Wuerfel fears that if the proposal goes through then the open space is gone forever. “What about future expansions?” Wuerfel said as she noted that most likely the one acre facility will then take up all four acres and so on. She as like Howard, Miller and many others want the SF voters to be consulted first over any more steps taken.
Public comment on this project will be accepted until Oct. 13. Submit written comments to Bill Wycko, SF Planning Department, 1650 Mission Street, Suite 400, SF, CA 94103 before October 13, 2010.
For more detail on the SF Westside Recycled Water Project visit:
Note: this article appears in the Sunset Beacon Newspaper of San Francisco, visit:

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