The San Francisco Examiner-- www.examiner.com
Lake Merced rises to the occasion
Of The Examiner Staff
Published on Wednesday, August 27, 2003
For the first time since spring, residents met with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission last Wednesday to hear a status report on recent efforts to give Lake Merced water relief.
The health of Lake Merced--the quartet of lakes known as North, South, East, and Impound--has long been a source of concern for residents and city officials.
Over the years, water levels at the lake have continued to dwindle, with little reason given to why and even fewer solutions on how to prevent it.
The PUC meeting last Wednesday addressed the most recent efforts to improve water levels. Those efforts included pouring 230 million gallons of water into the lake since April and the implementation of a recycled-water plan that decreases the city's reliance on the underground water aquifer that feeds Lake Merced.
The results so far have been positive, according to PUC hydrogeologist Greg Bartow, who said that the lake's water levels have increased this year by two feet.
"We have raised the level of water at South Lake for the first time in a number of years," Bartow said.
In fact, water levels at Lake Merced have become so healthy that South Lake is now flowing into North Lake, something that has not happened for some time, due to the lake's dwindling water levels.
The additional water flow into North Lake has been anticipated to equally improve water quality in South Lake, since the interconnection will feed high-quality Hetch Hetchy water into the lake.
Eventually, the PUC would like to see all four lakes of Lake Merced to be back up at historic levels, which would allow the smaller independent lakes to merge into one cohesive, gleaming body of water. Currently, the lake's water levels hover around 20.7 feet, Bartow said.
Pumping Hetch Hetchy water into the lake is scheduled to stop momentarily on October 15 in order to observe what happens to lake levels without the continuous flow of water. Many residents have wondered whether the water will stay in the lake or seep out.
A scientific study is currently underway at the PUC to obtain a better understanding of how much water seeps out of the lake and why, Bartow said.
"There are different perceptions on what the [underground] aquifer does," Bartow said.
Also at last week's meeting, PUC staff members discussed the recent release of the department's recycled-water master plan, which discussed a conjunctive-use agreement between San Francisco and Daly City.
The 50-year landmark deal, which was hammered out last December between the two municipalities, encouraged local golf courses to use recycled water instead of San Francisco's groundwater to satisfy their irrigation needs.
In 2002, three golf courses signed onto the agreement, which has kept an estimated 2 billion gallons of water in the lake and out of the golf courses, according to PUC officials.
In November, residents will get an opportunity to comment on technical and environmental reports that the PUC will issue on Lake Merced.
A detailed analysis of four potential water sources that could help pad the lake's water levels is one report due out in November. These sources could include storm water funneled from Daly City, recycled water provided by Daly City or San Francisco, local groundwater, or water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite.