No mistake by the lake
By Eric Gershon
City Hall Correspondent
Lake Merced's long and woeful decline could be reversed as soon as this winter, based on an agreement announced Thursday between San Francisco and Daly City.
The cities have agreed to split the cost of routing storm water into the lake, as well as reducing the amount of water drawn from the Westside Basin Aquifer that feeds the lake.
Lake Merced's water level has sunk more than seven feet since 1986 and more than 12 feet since its 23-foot high in the 1940s, spoiling the lake as a recreation spot and urban wildlife habitat.
District 7 Supervisor Tony Hall, who represents the neighborhoods nearest the lake and made its restoration a campaign promise, officially announced the agreement at a City Hall press conference.
The agreement follows an intensive six-month judicially mediated negotiation among the cities, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, three nearby golf courses and conservationists. The agencies intend to use the Daly City agreement as a template for agreements with other groups that drain the aquifer.
California law allows owners of the land above an aquifer to draw groundwater from it, and many cities, golf courses, and cemeteries do. The Westside Basin stretches from Golden Gate Park in the north to San Francisco International Airport in the south.
Daly City, which now gets 48 percent of its drinking water from the aquifer, has agreed to cut the amount by half. In exchange, it will get water from the SFPUC's Hetch Hetchy reservoir at a reduced rate.
Additionally, three San Francisco golf clubs -- the Olympic, San Francisco, and Lake Merced -- that now irrigate their fairways and greens from the aquifer have tentatively agreed to use recycled water from Daly City instead.
Daly City and the golf courses are expected to work out details, such as the purchase price of the recycled water, by Dec. 17. It is currently less expensive for the clubs to pump water from the aquifer than to use recycled water.
Likely to go forward soonest is a $700,000 storm water diversion pilot project, which San Francisco and Daly City will undertake this winter. The cities intend to feed the lake filtered rainwater. Rainfall in the area is currently dumped into the Pacific Ocean by the Vista Grande Tunnel.
"We also consider Lake Merced to be an asset," said John Martin, city manager of Daly City, explaining his city's support of the agreement. "Our residents make use of it too."
Since 1930, the lake's watershed has diminished by 90 percent -- from 6,000 acres to 600 -- due to development, according to Michael Carlin of the SFPUC. This means that there is little undeveloped land through which rainwater can seep back into the aquifer.
The City does not get any of its drinking water from the aquifer, but relies on it for watering most of The City's west side parks, including Golden Gate Park.
Lake Merced advocates praised the Daly City agreement as a critical first step in the lake's rehabilitation, but cautioned against celebration.
"We're on the 10-yard line today," said Mark Bergstrom, executive director of Caltrout. "We've got 90 yards to go. My vision is to take my kids to Lake Merced and catch 10 or 15 trout that look like that," he said, indicating a big fish with his hands.