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"Resolved, that the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors unequivocally opposes the SFPUC's proposed diversion of an additional 25 million gallons of water a day from the Tuolumne River. The County will seek and exercise the necessary legal remedies to see that no further water diversions occur from the Tuolumne River."

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Stop the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Water Grab on the Tuolumne River!

by Dan Bacher, editor of the FishSniffer
October 14, 2008 -- The city of San Francisco is supposedly one of the most "progressive" and "green" cities in the nation. Then why is the city trying to divert water from the Tuolumne River, a move that would further imperil salmon and steelhead populations on the edge of extinction and threaten dramatically declining populations of Delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad and juvenile striped bass on the California Delta?

As Central Valley fall run chinook salmon populations collapse, environmentalists are fighting a plan by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) to divert more water desperately needed by salmon and steelhead on the lower Tuolumne.

Although the collapse is caused by record exports of water from the California Delta and other factors, the SFPUC's water grab would only exacerbate the imperiled status of Central Valley salmon. Only 211 salmon returned last year to the Tuolumne, a river that once hosted tens of thousands of wild fall run chinooks every year.

A final decision is likely on October 30, so the time to act is now. "This is it - the final few weeks of a multi-year campaign to stop the SFPUC water grab that could seriously harm the health of the Tuolumne River," said Jessie Raeder, Bay Area Organizer of the Tuolumne River Trust.

A few short months ago, the SFPUC was considereding a controversial plan to take an additional 25 million gallons of water per day out of the Tuolumne River. "Most of this increase would have been for outdoor use," said Raeder. "Imagine it: pristine Hetch-Hetchy water - some of the best drinking water in the world - being sprinkled on lawns."

While that option is still on the table, SFPUC staff are now recommending a compromise - a variant that would leave most of that water in the river and turn to water conservation and recycling instead, at least until the year 2018, according to Raeder.

"Make no mistake - this has the potential to be a huge victory," she emphasized. "But we still have major concerns - assurances that the SFPUC and it's customers won't go over their cap are weak, and the plan would still allow for an additional 2 million gallons a day to be diverted."

59% of Tuolumne flows are already diverted in an average year and up to 90% in some years. Anglers have seen native salmon and steelhead populations crash, due to record Delta water exports, declining water quality and massive water diversions, combined with poor ocean conditions.

Salmon fishing in ocean waters off California and Oregon has been closed for the first time in history this year, due to the collapse of Sacramento-San Joaquin River fall run chinook salmon runs. Meanwhile, salmon fishing is banned on Central Valley rivers, with the exception of a short season from November 1 through December 31 on a small section of the Sacramento River.

The proposal to divert more water is embedded in the SFPUC's Water System Improvement Program (WSIP), a $4.3 billion plan to upgrade the Hetch Hetchy water system, which provides water for 2.4 million people in San Francisco, and surrounding communities in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Alameda Counties.

Taking more water from the Tuolumne would harm critical habitat for fish and wildlife, including chinook salmon and steelhead trout, degrade world-class recreation opportunities, and worsen San Francisco Bay-Delta water quality. Both the DFG and Tuolumne Board of Supervisors oppose further diversions of Tuolumne water.

In commenting on the WSIP, the California Department of Fish and Game wrote: "We believe that if implemented as proposed, the WSIP would only exacerbate the current decline of anadromous fisheries in the Tuolumne River. Consequently, we respectfully request that the SFPUC use alternative water sources other than the Tuolumne river system or implement water conservation measures to meet drought year demands and 2030 purchase requests."

The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors agreed that no more water should be diverted from the River, and passed a resolution concluding: "Resolved, that the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors unequivocally opposes the SFPUC's proposed diversion of an additional 25 million gallons of water a day from the Tuolumne River. The County will seek and exercise the necessary legal remedies to see that no further water diversions occur from the Tuolumne River."

Your help is urgently needed right now. Please send an email to the SFPUC and encourage them to prioritize water conservation and recycling over taking any more water out of the River! It's easy to send a letter using the new action page on the Trust's website at http://www.tuolumne.org/content/article.php/stopgrab.

On October 30, there will be two important hearings and the SFPUC will likely decide whether to go with a plan that diverts more water from the river or one that doesn't. October 30 will be the moment of truth; the culmination of several years of campaigning for a project that will not increase diversions from the Tuolumne.

"We are asking Tuolumne supporters to come out in droves - if folks were to do one major action to protect the source of their drinking water this year - this is it," urged Raeder. "Take the day off and clear the schedule if you can!"

In the morning the SF Planning Commission will discuss and vote on certification of the final EIR for the WSIP. In the afternoon, probably at 1:30pm, the SFPUC will choose a project. In the meantime, if you would like to check out the final EIR, it's available at http://www.sfgov.org/site/planning_index.asp?id=80530.

As soon as the exact times and locations of those hearings are finalized, they will be posted on the Tuolumne River Trust website: http://www.tuolumne.org.

Also, the SFPUC will host a public meeting in Menlo Park on October 15 at 6 pm at the Belle Haven Senior Services Center, 110 Terminal Ave. This will be a great opportunity to speak in support of the Tuolumne.

The Tuolumne River Trust and Sierra Club will also host a special campaign meeting in Palo Alto on Sunday, October 19 at 6pm. They'll present an update on the SFPUC's plan for the Tuolumne, and then strategize ways to protect the river.

Pizza will be provided (please feel free to bring something to share if you're so inclined). The meeting will be located at the Peninsula Conservation Center, 3921 E. Bayshore Rd. in Palo Alto (directions at http://www.acterra.org/about/locations.html). Please RSVP to Jessie at jessie [at] tuolumne.org.

For more information, contact:

Jessie Raeder
Bay Area Organizer
Tuolumne River Trust
415-882-7252 ext. 301