Bay Area Cities Prepare For 60 Days Without Hetch Hetchy Supply

In late December, the filtration tanks at a treatment plant in San Bruno were quietly filled with millions of gallons of raw water. 

At the same time, water was drained out of Mountain Tunnel, the century-old artery connecting the Bay Area to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, 175 miles away in Tuolumne County. From Tuesday through March 5, crews will traverse the 19-mile conduit making repairs and performing a rigorous inspection. Officials have known for years that the tunnel is at risk of catastrophic collapse. 

The shutdown will help them decide whether the tunnel can be saved or will need to be entirely replaced.

During those 60 days of inspections, San Francisco and other Bay Area cities will be cut off from their main water supply in the craggy heights in Yosemite National Park. Instead, water will come from four local water reservoirs and three treatment plants that will pump more than 150 million gallons a day to residents and businesses during the long closure. As water was filling the Harry Tracy Water Treatment Plant in San Bruno, plants in Half Moon Bay and Sunol Valley were also being prepared for heavy-duty work. 

The pipeline normally closes for maintenance for 30 days each year, but the last time it closed for double that time was in 1980, also for a thorough inspection. 

“It’s more challenging than what we have normally done,” said Steven Ritchie, assistant general manager of water enterprise at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

For starters, two of the treatment plants needed to be made ready, he said. “We’ve done a lot of work upping Harry Tracy and the Sunol Water Treatment Plant’s efficiencies,” Ritchie said. “There will still be plenty of water available, and we have contingency plans in place for the worst-case scenario if a disaster happens.” 

 

One week before commission officials closed the tunnel, more water volume than usual was allowed to rush down a series of pipes from the Crystal Springs Reservoir to the San Andreas Reservoir and then into the Harry Tracy plant. Globs of sediment and algae skimmed across the surface of the rust-colored water as it flowed through a series of channels. The water would later be filtered and sanitized at the plant. 

The 17 million-gallon water storage drum at Harry Tracy usually empties and fills two times a day at most. But as a full-time water supply source for San Francisco and the Peninsula after the tunnel shutdown, it will be replenished eight times daily — and that’s with the lower seasonal demand for water.

“We’ve been planning this shutdown for a decade,” said Paul Gambon, the water supply and treatment system operations manager at the commission. “This year is the big year because it will determine what the future looks like. There are a lot of unknowns. We are currently in the exploratory phase.”

Warning signs began showing 25 years ago, alerting officials that something was amiss in the tunnel built by miners nearly 100 years ago. Obstructions caused by the crumbling structure have decreased the volume of water pushing through Mountain Tunnel, data show, and concrete laid when the artery was built is disintegrating. A collapse in the system could take 270 days and cost more than $100 million to repair or $620 million to replace, according to the commission. 

Last fall, the agency spent $5 million to improve accessibility to the tunnel for workers, which is located at the bottom of a steep canyon in a remote stretch of Hetch Hetchy Valley. Crews increased the size of entry points and built wider gravel roads. 

This winter’s inspection will reveal whether the agency will need to repair the tunnel completely or build a new one. Renovating the conduit would mean shutting it down for two months every winter for up to 10 years. It’s the pricier but more reliable option, Ritchie said. 

During the tests, the taste and purity of San Francisco’s water won’t change, Ritchie said. The water stored in local reservoirs was funneled down from Hetch Hetchy. But because of fish and critters that live around the reservoirs, it needed extra filtering, he said. 

Nor will residents likely see any changes in service during the two months, said agency spokesman Charles Sheehan.

“Water is essential and necessary, which is why there is so much planning around this shutdown,” Sheehan said. “You can’t have interruptions in service the way you could with garbage pickup. People should have confidence that their water system won’t fail on them.”

At the Harry Tracy plant, machines churned and hummed. Dirty water rushed in, and clean water left in its place. 

Lizzie Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: ljohnson@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @LizzieJohnsonnn

Five Ways to Restore the Separation of Powers

It isn’t enough for Trump to quickly rescind Obama’s executive orders. Congress also needs to act.

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and ELIZABETH PRICE FOLEY Dec. 19, 2016 The Wall Street Journal

The worst legacy of the Obama administration may be disdain for the Constitution’s separation of powers. President Obama’s actions have created dangerous stress fractures in our constitutional architecture, making it imperative that the Trump administration and Republican Congress commence immediate repairs.

The Constitution separates power in two ways: among the three branches of the federal government and between the federal government and states. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, separation creates “a double security” for liberty because “different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.”

The Obama administration has spurned this core constitutional principle, aggrandizing executive power at the expense of Congress and states. It has rewritten laws, disregarding its constitutional duty to faithfully execute them.

ObamaCare’s implementation provides multiple examples: delaying statutory deadlines, extending tax credits to groups Congress never included, exempting unions from fees, expanding hardship waivers beyond recognition and granting “transition relief” for preferred employers.

Mr. Obama even usurped Congress’s power of the purse, spending billions for “cost-sharing subsidies” that pay ObamaCare insurers for subsidizing deductibles and copays. Congress never appropriated money for these subsidies, so the administration shifted money appropriated for other purposes. The House sued to defend its constitutional prerogative, and in May a federal court ruled against the administration, which has appealed.

Mr. Obama also exempted five million illegal immigrants from deportation, though Congress had unambiguously declared them deportable. He waived the mandatory work requirement of the 1996 welfare reform. He redefined sexual discrimination under Title IX, forcing schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms of their non-biological gender, and threatening to withdraw funds if colleges refuse to reduce due process protections for individuals accused of sexual assault.

The president has exhibited particular antipathy toward the Senate’s advice-and-consent duty. In Noel Canning v. NLRB (2014), the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the administration violated separation of powers by making unilateral appointments to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was in session. And the president unilaterally committed the nation to an unpopular nuclear deal with Iran, bypassing the Senate’s treaty ratification power.

Mr. Obama’s actions have also shattered federalism. The administration rewrote the 1970 Clean Air Act, commanding states to revamp their electricity generation and distribution infrastructure. It rewrote the 1972 Clean Water Act, claiming vast new power to regulate ditches and streams under the risible notion that they are “navigable waters.” It has refused to enforce existing federal drug laws, emboldening states to legalize marijuana.

The media and academy enabled the administration’s unconstitutional behavior because they support its policy agenda. But the Framers expected members of Congress to jealously defend congressional power against executive encroachment—even from a president of the same political party. As Madison observed, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.”

This principle disappeared during the past eight years. In his 2014 State of the Union address, the president vowed to implement his agenda “wherever and whenever I can” without congressional involvement—to thunderous applause by Democrats. In November 2014, Democratic Senators urged the president to vastly expand his unilateral amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The Trump administration and GOP Congress should resist the temptation to follow this Constitution-be-damned playbook. The greatest gift Republicans could give Americans is a restored separation of powers. But this cannot be accomplished by merely rescinding the Obama administration’s unconstitutional executive orders. While this is a necessary step, Congress should enact additional reforms.

Second, Congress could prohibit “ Chevron deference,” in which federal courts defer to executive branch interpretations of ambiguous statutes. Chevron deference is a judge-made doctrine that has aggrandized executive power, ostensibly to implement Congress’s intent. If Congress denounces such deference, it can simultaneously reduce executive power and encourage itself to legislate with greater specificity.

Third, Congress can augment its institutional authority by expanding its contempt power. The criminal contempt statute should require the U.S. attorney to convene a grand jury upon referral by the House or Senate without exercising prosecutorial discretion. Congress should also extend the civil contempt statute to the House, not merely the Senate, and enact a new law specifying a process for using Congress’s longstanding (but rarely invoked) inherent contempt authority.

Fourth, Congress can require that all major international commitments be ratified by treaty. A statute defining the proper dividing line between treaties and executive agreements would reassert the Senate’s constitutional role, provide clarification to the judiciary, and encourage communication and negotiation between Congress and the president.

Fifth, Congress can enact a law further restricting its ability to coerce states into adopting federal policies or commanding state officials to carry them out. While the courts have ultimate say on the contours of these federalism doctrines, a law could force greater consensus and debate, provide guidelines on Congress’s use of its powers, and signal to the judiciary a reinvigorated commitment to federalism.

Restoring separation of powers is necessary and possible. It should be the highest priority of the Trump administration and Congress.

Mr. Rivkin and Ms. Foley practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C. Ms. Foley is also a professor of constitutional law at Florida International University College of Law.

Arizona's U.S. Congressman Paul Gosar Shared the following thoughts on the Opinion pieces above from his Facebook Account:

A must read article from The Wall Street Journal: Five Ways to Restore the Separation of Powers

It isn’t enough for Trump to quickly rescind Obama’s executive orders. Congress also needs to act. 

The media and academy enabled the administration’s unconstitutional behavior because they support its policy agenda. But the Framers expected members of Congress to jealously defend congressional power against executive encroachment—even from a president of the same political party. As Madison observed, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.”

This principle disappeared during the past eight years. In his 2014 State of the Union address, the president vowed to implement his agenda “wherever and whenever I can” without congressional involvement—to thunderous applause by Democrats. In November 2014, Democratic Senators urged the president to vastly expand his unilateral amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The Trump administration and GOP Congress should resist the temptation to follow this Constitution-be-damned playbook. The greatest gift Republicans could give Americans is a restored separation of powers. But this cannot be accomplished by merely rescinding the Obama administration’s unconstitutional executive orders. While this is a necessary step, Congress should enact additional reforms.