Sunday, July 6, 2008

Water and Power

San Francisco may be among the best water delivered from a municipal water system on the entire planet.

Snow melt, captured in a glorious glacier-carved granite valley in Yosemite National Park, flows, unadulterated, through pipelines and hydroelectric turbines, directly to home and businesses in 28 cities adjacent to south San Francisco Bay.

At one time in the 1970's, an entrepreneur began bottling and selling water that came directly out of the tap from somewhere in San Francisco.

But great tasting water is not all that this water system delivers. The hydroelectric turbines that were designed and built into this water system produce carbon-free electricity, which will only increase in value as carbon taxes are added to fossil fuel-based electrical generation.

Los Angeles and Oakland also built aqueducts that produced power and water supplies which made their investments in infrastructure help pay for itself over the next century of operation. (for a great account of the LA water grab starting in the early 1900's, read Water & Power by William L. Kahrl.) Even major agricultural districts like Modesto Irrigation District have a power division that makes money from power sales to offset some of the cost of the irrigation infrastructure built for the farmers they serve.

The one water agency that stands below all these other major water agencies, when it comes to producing producing both water and power for its operational use and community benefit, is the Santa Clara Valley Water District. While it proudly boasts that it is the only water agency in the state to have water contracts with both the State Water Project and the Federal Central Valley Project, it has mostly ignored its 30 year-old authority to be a power producer as well as a water management agency. The Water District, however, honestly states that they are the single largest user of power in the entire Silicon (Server-Heavy) Valley.

In 1978, the Santa Clara Valley Water District was granted the authority by special State statute to produce power, both for its own use and the betterment of the community. The Water District immediately initiated many feasibility studies for "low head" hydroelectric generating stations in many locales around the County. Nothing was built until Governor Jerry Brown's leadership required that utilities pay for new power at a determined "avoided costs" as the base line rate.

The District installed a one megawatt hydroelectric generator at the base of Andersen Dam in 1988. AND THEN STOPPED! As one Mercury News columnist wrote, if you don't built power plants at the reservoir sites, it was "Just water over the dam."

So why would the admittedly largest electricity user in all of Silicon Valley suddenly eliminate a program which could make their own electricity?
Building self-generated power would, without question, increase the reliability of the water the Water District is expecting and expected to deliver to the residents and businesses through the County.

Part can be blamed on the sunset of the avoided costs tariffs set by the State, placed in the regulations as a concession to the power utilities. The Santa Clara Valley Water District is situated in the service area of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a very large investor-owned utility that exerts all the political power that goes with operating a monopoly service to most of the San Francisco Bay area. Getting what are called lobbyists in other government halls, what the water district got from PG&E was the External Affairs or Government Affairs Directors of the corporate headquarters.

I realized how powerful PG&E was while I was working on the 21st floor of the Bechtel Building at Mission and Beale in San Francisco in 1970. The east facing widows near my cubicle had a clear view of San Francisco Bay. During the 18 months that I worked there, I watched the Bay view slowly disappear as the new PG&E headquarters rose across Beale Street and completely blocked Steve Bechtel's view of San Francisco's famous and glorious Bay and shipping docks. Also while working at Bechtel, it was the first company I realized used the business model: "We pollute it, We clean it up, Business Couldn't Be Better!"
PG&E's representatives began showing up at many Board meetings, while hardly ever speaking publicly to the Board. Plenty of conversations took place with staff and directors during breaks in the LOBBY. Probably the two most obvious lobbying successes were getting the Board's support for the construction of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant and a District Board resolution opposing municipal preference for re-licensing of hydroelectric sites in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. That was like the District shooting itself in the foot, since their own application for these licenses could have become part of the District's own electricity portfolio.

Erin Brocavich showed us that PG&E doesn't always get their way, especially when they pollute a community's water supply with hexavalent chromium.
It's not just PG&E to blame for stopping this important aspect to the District's infrastructure. ONE electrical generating point in this massive water system is such a poor showing , it clearly demonstrates the Water District's lack of engineering ingenuity coupled with a lack of political will or vision on the Board of Directors.

In 2001, the Water District was shocked to find themselves, along with the rest of California, in the middle of an energy crisis, brought on by corrupt corporations, like ENRON, and as an unintended consequence of a State energy DE-regulation, gone terribly wrong. When the situation degraded to rolling blackouts and power rates started to skyrocket like gasoline prices did in 2008, the District staff rushed a $2 million emergency power band aid onto all their treatment plants.

At all three water treatment plants, diesel-powered standby generators were installed, adjacent to high value residences in the hilltop neighborhoods in San Jose and Los Gatos. No one at the Water District Board or staff, apparently had heard of global warming before Al Gore made his documentary. But they surely would be hearing plenty of noise complaints from their neighbors.

Having been raised in Niagara Falls, I spent my early teen years watching the New York State Power Authority divert the Niagara River under the city through two 60 ft. x 60 ft. conduits to a massive hydroelectric power plant on the lower Niagara River 10 miles below the famous falls. My advocacy for more hydro power development here was one more issue to which my Board colleagues seemed deaf.

I had left the Board of Directors in 1995 to begin serving as the Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention(P2) Center. My new role was to engage my P2 Center Board in determining ways and means to prevent pollution of our water resources from any source. Since the Water District was a major funder of this NGO and also an appointing authority of the Board, it seemed a proper involvement of the P2 Center to re-examine the hydroelectric feasibility studies that had sat in the District library for 20+ years.

The District and the P2 Center Board both agreed to use our organization to conduct this review. The P2 Center hired the mechanical engineering consultants Salas O'Brien in San Jose to review the operational and economic data from the Andersen Dam hydroelectric generator and review the present day costs and payback time for three other sites, for which prior feasibility studies had been conducted.

Within four months, the engineering report was delivered with a full power point presentation of the recommendations. The highlight of the report was the 5.4 year payback of a "inline" hydroelectric generator on the Calero pipeline with power transmission directly to the Santa Teresa Water Treatment plant three miles to the north.

The report never was agendized and brought before the Water District Board for discussion and action. Despite the excellent engineering analysis and presentation made to the staff by our consultant, the managing staff of the Water District staff blocked it from District Board. It is apparently just easier for the staff to rely on outside power sources than have the bother of building, operating and maintaining additional hydroelectric plants within their system.

The staff did later build a 200 kw solar power system into the carport of their main parking lot along Almaden Expressway, enjoying the high visibility of appearing to be a "green-minded" organization. After they built a small gas turbine generator at the old administration building, they actually issued a press release that the District was going "off grid." But taking the administrative buildings off grid is an insignificant reduction in the enormous amount of power used by the Santa Clara Valley Water District's operations.

The San Felipe Aqueduct alone requires 36,000 horsepower to operate. The new ozone treatment units will greatly increase the power demand of the District's treatment plants, as this more benign disinfectant must be generated onsite using great quantities of electricity. Once the District finally gets into the water recycling business, pumping and advanced treatment like reverse osmosis will be yet another notch up for the District's electrical demand. But while all this activity surrounds the Board and staff, still no one is talking about building any more carbon-free generating capacity from either wind, solar or hydroelectric sources.

As for global warming, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

below is San Francisco's PR for banning bottled water use in the City:

The Importance of Municipal Water

San Francisco’s Phase Out of Bottled Water

USCMfont> Water Utility Subcommittee

May 1, 2008



“To serve San Francisco and its Bay Area customers with reliable, high quality water, while maximizing benefits from power operations and responsibly managing the resources entrusted to our care.”

SFPUC</font> Service Area

SFPUC</font> serves drinking water to 2.4 million people in 5 counties

SFPUC</font> Water and Power System

Major Water and Power System Facilities

  • 280-plus miles of pipelines
  • 60-plus miles of tunnels
  • 22 reservoirs
  • 2 water treatment plants
  • 3 power facilities

Sustainable Wastewater System

  • Low Impact Development (LID)
  • Maximize Renewable Energy Opportunities
  • Water Reuse
  • Biosolids Reuse/Disposal
  • BiofuelSFGreasecycle a model for other cities

SF Government Bottled Water Ban

  • Initiated June 2007
  • Phased in over 6 months
  • Exceptions for public health clinics, emergency use and labor union MOU
  • Received over 50 calls from other cities requesting information

Background for Bottled Water Ban

  • Municipal tap water is a safe, healthy choice
  • San Francisco’s regional water system collects granite-filtered spring snowmelt<!-- from the Sierra Nevada at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir for delivery to San Francisco and Bay Area taps
  • Water collected at the Hetcht>ont> Hetchynt>ont> Reservoir exceeds all federal and state criteria for water quality and San Francisco’s tap water is tested nearly 90,000 times a year throughout the system to ensure its safety

  • Why Phase out Bottled Water?

    Environmental Concerns:

    • Reducing Carbon Footprint:
      • Pacific Institute estimates that in 2006 the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil were used to make the plastic water bottles Americans use each year.
      • Water coolers and individual water bottles are extremely heavy to transport.
      • Distribution of bottled water by boat, truck and train involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels.
    • Burden to Waste Stream and Landfills:
      • NRDC and others have estimated that Americans threw away 75-85% of non-carbonated PET bottles, which can take more than 1,000 years to biodegrade and can contribute to leaching toxics into ground water.
    • Ecosystem Depletion:
      • Water diverted from local aquifers for the bottled water industry can strain surrounding ecosystems.
    • Water Quality:
      • Bottled water is regulated by the FDA. Municipal tap water is regulated by the EPA and has more stringent requirements for testing. SF Municipal tap water is tested over 90,000 times a year.

    Why Phase Out Bottled Water?


    • Bottled water is over 1000 times more expensive than San Francisco tap water

    • San Francisco will save nearly $1 million annually by phasing out bottled water contract

    Why Phase Out Bottled Water?

    Other issues:

    • Lead by Example
      • SF’s government phase out has led to launch of voluntary restaurant ban
    • SF mandating phase out of other products that negatively impact environment
      • Styrofoam ban
      • Plastic bag ban
    • Promotion of bottled water decreases need for water infrastructure investment in public mind
      • SF investing $4.3 billion in water infrastructure rebuild

    Next Steps

    Recommend that the US Conference of Mayors

    encourages cities and counties to phase out

    government use of bottled water and promote

    importance of municipal water.

    For More Information

    Laura Spanjian

    Assistant General Manager, External Affairs, SFPUC

    1155 Market Street, San Francisco CA 94103

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