Reviving Lake Merced
Wednesday, October 31, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle
IT SHOULDN'T have taken decades, but Lake Merced may finally be on the mend. An agreement between a host of thirsty users -- Daly City, San Francisco, local golf courses and cemeteries -- promise to restore flows to bring a shrinking waterline back to historic levels.
It's a sad story with a potentially happy ending. Since the 1970s, wells supplied irrigation and drinking water from a vast aquifer that fed Lake Merced near the San Mateo County border in southwestern San Francisco. The lake level dropped by 10 feet over the years, while users and citizens squabbled.
Pushed by fresh leadership and legal action filed by California Trout, the major players have cut a sensible deal. San Francisco and Daly City will work to build a water reclamation plant and send the treated flow to major users such as Lake Merced area golf courses and nearby cemeteries, which would phase out pumping from the aquifer.
San Francisco will sell Hetch Hetchy water at a discount to Daly City to make up for less underground pumping. San Francisco will also divert cleaned- up storm runoffs into the lake instead of sewer lines.
It's a wonder why this reasonable and obvious shared solution wasn't worked out before. The lake, once a favorite spot for boaters, anglers and rowers, has faded badly while finger-pointing, studies and endless meetings took place.
The new agreement needs to be formalized into law. Money for the water treatment plant must be nailed down, and the aquifer-draining habits of all sides ended. Too many promises were made in the past to let this pact slip away.
San Francisco Supervisor Tony Hall, whose district adjoins the lake, said water levels could begin creeping up this winter. He warns it will take years to replenish what was lost, but the lake at last has a prescription for restoring its health.