Sunday, August 31, 2008

Temples of Water

Pictured above is the Pulgas Water Temple, built at the western terminus of the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, constructed by the City of San Francisco in the early 20th century. The inscription chiseled into the crown of the temple reads: “I give Water in the Wilderness and Rivers in the Desert to give Water to my People”(Isaiah 43:20) invoking the an extra-terrestrial god's words to justify desecration of natural beauty in the wilderness. There, in the wilderness, are the formerly-protected glacier-carved granite monoliths of Yosemite National Park, now partially inundated in the Hetch Hetchy Valley, by a dam authorized by Congress and the water commandeered by the San Francisco politicians, still reeling from the loss of most of their city from earthquake and fire in 1906.

Of course this water project did not happen without a fight. Remember the wise words of Mark Twain, "Whiskey's for Drinking, Water's for fighting over." John Muir started the Sierra Club and used it's fledgling support to battle this outrage against some of nature's most beautiful sculptures, and died of a broken spirit as the nation's chief resource protectors, like Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt, succumbed to the support San Francisco's Mayor (1896-1902)and later US Senator Phelan built in Congress.

But San Francisco did have a fairly well developed water system before the Hetch Hetchy Water Project was built, and that system was once a privately owned water company called Spring Valley Water Company (SVWC). Elements of the former SVWC are today essential local elements of San Francisco's regional water system and includes groundwater wells in Pleasanton, infiltration galleries in Sunol and the Calaveras Reservoir to the east and the Crystal Springs Reservoir, in San Mateo County, well-viewed by travelers on the "scenic highway" portion of Interstate 280. Picture at right is the Sunol Water Temple.

The cynical version of the Golden Rule which reads "The guy with gold makes the rules" really holds true when you consider the early roots of San Francisco's water system. Wiliam Bowers Bourn II, upon his father's untimely death was given the Empire Mine, which produced 5.8 million ounces of gold, extracted from 367 miles of underground passages. He used this wealth to invest in many other ventures, including vineyards, gas and electric systems consolidations (leading to the formation of PG&E) and the City of San Francisco's water supply. While successfully enlarging the sources of water available to the City through the infrastructure developed by Bourn's Spring Valley Water Company, he also vigorously opposed the construction of the Hetch Hetchy Water Project, which would destroy his monopoly water supply for the west's premier port city. Prior to construction of the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct, half of San Francisco's water supply, approximately 6 million gallons per day passed through the Sunol temple. The SVWC, including both of the temples, was purchased by the City of San Francisco in 1930 for US$40 million.

Bourn bought the entire watershed in San Mateo County where the Crystal Springs Reservoir now resides.
Before selling it to the SVWC, he split off about 654 acres at the southern end of the watershed, overlooking what would become the lake impounded by the Crystal Springs Dam. On this land he built his 36,000 square foot mansion,which he called FILOLI (the first two letters of the three words of his abbreviated philosophy: “FIGHT for a just cause; LOVE your fellow man; LIVE a good life.”) Hikers and naturalists all know that this watershed was placed off limits for all other development or even entry by anyone outside the San Francisco Water Department. Filoli was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975 by Mrs Roth, owner of the Matson Shipping empire and second owner of the estate. For a small fee, the public is now welcome to visit the estate and tour the mansion and spectacular well-manicured 16-acre formal gardens.

Today, the San Francisco Water Department has been in high PR mode to gain support for its proposed
$4.3 billion voter-approved Water System Improvement Program to upgrade the SFPUC Regional Water System and ensure reliable water delivery for more than 2.4 million customers in San Francisco and parts of three neighboring counties. Much of the support has come from the 28 retail agencies in those three neighboring counties, as well as PR specialists like the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group ( now the self-anointed Silicon Valley Leadership Group, after leading most of their members' manufacturing jobs offshore between 1990 and 2000, when the tech bubble was burst by the prick of the valley's premier pirates.)

All this expenditure by SFPUC is expected to raise water rates to these 2.4 million water users by about 400%. This will then set a new baseline for what Santa Clara Valley Water District can compare to its rate structure and make it much easier to sell new expensive projects to the Board of Directors and the mostly ignorant public in Santa Clara County.


Anonymous said...


Titanium Screws said...

This temple looks amazing!