So on Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency in San Francisco, as a result of the massive Rim Fire burning through the Sierra foothills near Yosemite. Now keep in mind this is at least a 150 miles east of the city. The fire was aimed towards the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir — source of most of San Francisco’s drinking water — as well as two hydroelectric generating stations owned by the city. Hum…water and electricity. That could be a big deal!
Now in reality the Hetch Hetchy system’s hydroelectric stations supply only a fraction of the power used in the city. The majority comes from Pacific Gas and Electric Co., not Hetch Hetchy. AND, the city saw the fire coming and started buying replacement electricity from other sources almost a week ago. It is likely not to be a energy crisis but it could become a water problem. 85 percent of the city’s water comes from the Hetch Hetchy system.
The Rim Fire started on Aug. 17, a Saturday. The following Monday, Aug. 19, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which runs the Hetch Hetchy system, powered down two hydroelectric stations nearby, as well as the transmission line that carries their electricity. The same day, the city started buying replacement electricity — spending an extra $600,000 over the course of the week.
There has been some damage to the Kirkwood Powerhouse — the extent, at this point, is not know. The fire is now burning within a few miles of the reservoir, but the wind has been blowing the fire’s immense plume of ash and smoke to the north and a little east — away from the reservoir.
So for now at least, the water appears to be fine. And the lights stay on. What is the lesson for all of us planners. Do you really know where your utilities come from?