Lake Merced group hopes to save area, water
After years of frustration, work continues on efforts to influence city
By Tiffany Maleshefski
November 27, 2001
The Lake Merced Task Force members admit they sometimes feel like underdog advocates for the ailing 600-acre area of lakes, biking paths, and greenery that comprises Lake Merced.
Task force members Dee Dee Workman, Randy Zebell, Don Zingale, and Christina Holmes have worked very hard for a long time to have Lake Mercedís condition pushed to the front of several committee and board agendas throughout the city.
Workman said that since CalTrout ó a nonprofit group committed to preserving water quality in natural areas ó filed a petition urging that the city intervene soon to help raise water levels at the lake or else the group would seek legal action, LMTF has been portrayed as a group pushed to the sidelines of the project to restore Lake Merced.
"CalTrout came in like cowboys," said Workman, executive director of San Francisco Beautiful. CalTroutís main goal is to put pressure on the city to figure out a way to keep the lakeís water levels from sinking lower.
The lakeís water levels fell slightly below the pedestrian bridge that bisects the South and Impound lakes, according to Zebell, who works in the Natural Areas Program in the Recreation and Park Department.
Now the water levels in that region of the lake skim the foundation of the 10-foot high bridge.
No one on the task force disagrees that CalTroutís concern is one that is pressing, but what is upsetting to the LMTF ó which represents over 40 stakeholders throughout the city ó is the misconception that restoration of the lake has stalled until the water level issue is remedied.
"Things have to happen quickly or there isnít going to be any lake to preserve," conceded Workman.
Zingale, dean of the college of health and human services at San Francisco State University, said that LMTF has been "zinged for saying we havenít climbed on board," to endorse CalTroutís petition.
Zingale said, "Our job is not to move each agenda forward; our job is to broaden the conversation and keep it alive.
"LMTF has got its tentacles everywhere, it just doesnít do it in sensational ways."
Instead all attention has been focused on raising the lakeís water levels, believes LMTF, which is one important but not exclusive issue the LMTF members grapple with.
While declining water levels have been pushed to the forefront of nearly every discussion related to Lake Merced, LMTF feels slighted since there are so many other actions being taken by LMTF.
The proof is in the stewardship proposal it presented to San Francisco Public Utilities Commission commissioners earlier this month.
The lengthy proposal outlines 85 recommendations to the PUC that address all issues pertaining to the lake, such as habitat, recreation, and water quality.
Joan Ryan, a water resources engineer with the PUC who also sits on the LMTF, said the stewardship proposal is a tangible document that can be implemented by the PUC.
When the proposal was presented to commissioners they gave a "verbal approval," which Ryan said means a lot of the work outlined in LMTFís proposal could be completed either by the PUC or the task force.
Some of those recommendations include creating an educational resource center that could be overseen by SFSU, rebuilding a boat house that could once again facilitate boating on the lake once water levels are raised, linking up hiking trails connecting to the lake, and improving pedestrian access around the lake.
Zingale noted that two projects currently underway at Lake Merced were borne out of recommendations in the stewardship proposal: the Impound Lake Triangle project and the stormwater diversion project.
The Impound Lake Triangle project will revamp the Impound Lake area, to restore several habitat areas, rebuild two parking lots, and make the area more accessible to pedestrians as well as rebuild the fishing pier.
Ryan said the stormwater diversion project is currently being studied as a pilot program that would divert treated stormwater from Daly City into the lake.
Zebell ó who is also president of the local chapter of the Native Plant Society ó pointed out that there has been little mention of the native-plant restoration work that has been extensive near the Impound and South lakes.
Invasive ice plants has been cleared out of several areas that were once blanketed with the dense plant and some trees have been removed to create space for native plants as well as open up the view of the lake near the Bufano statue at the southern end of South Lake.
Which brings up another issue LMTF believes has been overshadowed by the drive to increase water levels.
Zebell said the areas especially around Impound Lake ó the most shallow of the three lakes that make up Lake Merced ó have begun to adapt to a natural area that is growing accustomed to low water levels.
If there is a move to pour high volumes of water into the lake, Ryan said LMTF members would want to ensure they are not doing more harm than good to the plants, insects, birds, and various other creatures who have made the habitat their home.
Ryan said the PUC plans to conduct a beneficiary use study that will better portray what sort of impact on current life at the lake raising water levels would have, while at the same time not compromising the goal of raising water levels at the lake.
Workman and others believe that the goals pushed by CalTrout and various other factions advocating on behalf of the lake can be achieved, while other projects continue to move forward.
"Itís more than just water," said Zingale. "Stuff is happening, [but] it may not be as visible, and not as sexy."