San Fransisco: Water supply and shortage

An investigation into the reasons behind the shortage of water in San Francisco and why the problem has become so severe

My three subquestions:

  • What the people are doing to prevent and aid this issue?
  • The methods of storage and obtaining surplus supply?
  • How we can begin to solve the water storage issue?

I’ll be investigating into this question for San-Fransisco, a well known, developed city in the state of California. My justification for why I am looking into the shortage of water, is because I find it interesting to look into how developed countries deal with these types of issues. Over one billion people are currently suffering from water depravation, mainly due to their lack of access to water based on their geographical location, yet when a developed city begins running low on water, it’s usually due to overuse and unsustainability, rather than dry terrain in the first place.

Three Overview sources:

This article is solely relevant to San Fransisco, going to detail as to why and how the problem is affecting the city. It introduces issues from a range of perspectives, discussing different ideas, such as how importing food, or landscaping has affected the average water usage in the city. Although it does speak directly of my main research question from a diverse range of sources, this variety is really more useful in terms of connecting and cross referencing the topics to other websites. This is because the article provides sources and links to further reading, as well as consistently sourcing its information within the text.

This magazine article actually provides information which is a bit too in depth for a simple overview of the city’s water issue. However the website is useful to me, as the structure of the website is quite simple and well organised, formatted into different sections which I can quickly locate to find relevant information. It’s wide coverage provides a good, all around summary of the entire issue. One of the more useful sections would be the segment on why water shortages happen, although this source once again, could be relevant to my subquestion of why the shortage has gotten so severe, I still think of this segment as an overview, rather than a specific source. This is because, although the segment provides some relevant points in relation to my subquestion, the information isn’t very deep in it’s specific application to San Fransisco. The information is general and could apply to several other cities too, but it still gives a good overview or kickstart on San Fransisco as a city, and why it is currently facing these water issues.

This government publication can be classified as reliable and surely relevant, as it shows directly, how the state’s government is reacting to the issue. This publication isn’t specific to San Fransisco, but does still give full insight as to what regulations are being implemented across the whole of California. The publication is short and only talks about inflicted caps briefly, but it still provides me with enough information to start Interpreting how they city reacted and adapted around these rules. Obviously I will have to look into more specific case studies in San Fransisco to back up/ prove my perspectives and interpretations, but this source is a good overview, and a good start.

More relevant to my sub questions

The Harry Tracy water treatment facility is briefly introduced in this video, The mass structure is one of the many adaptations San Fransisco has made in order to preserve and replenish its unsustainable water supplies. It gives us briefs statistics on the new water infrastructure, and shows us the movement which the people of San Fransisco are undertaking. It’s really interesting to see this in comparison to the Beijing water preservation video I watched, as they interviewed a local Chinese resident who didn’t even realise there was a water shortage problem. We need to remember that education is key, and that so long as everyone knows there is a problem, even their minor alterations to their lives build up, for the benefit of the city.

This news article was released very recently, it shows useful information as to how San Fransisco’s problem compares to the rest of California, which is relevant to the sub question, how severe has the problem become? As a news station it’s important to reconsie that there could possibly be bias, I looked into the author of the piece, Matt Keller, and he seems to be credible, with many attributable awards. With this reliability checked, It’s safe to assume the quotes within the article, and the majority of statistics are factual. This information is relevant and now proven useful.

This source introduces another project which San Fransisco may be undertaking to replenish their water supplies. The country seems to be positively reacting to the adaptation, and coming up with ingenuitive ideas to make the most of their geographical location. I feel as though this article is an example of the difference between MDEC and LDEC’s going through the same issue, as The State of California is willing to fund $1 billion dollar infrastructures which will turn sea water into fresh water. An LDEC could easily be just as willing, if only they had the proper resources to do so, the problem of a draught is going to be a lot simpler for San Fransisco, as they simply cut down a quarter of their usage and go about their daily lives.

The San Fransisco Public Utilities Commission

The SFPU or the San Fransisco Public Utilities commission has developed a department compromised of three different utilities, dedicated to the preservation of water, sewage infrastructure and power. Supported by the Business Services, infrastructure and External Affairs bureaus, they’re main focus is on providing drinking water, as well as waste water retail services to the people of San Fransisco. It’s current focus is on how to evoke a reaction within the general public, to get them to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 10%. As well as providing them with an efficient water system, shown in a map below. This organisation is inclusive and resilient to both environmental and community interests, and hopes to help the sustainability of the water in San Fransisco.

Investigating into this organisation would be helpful for me, as they’re clearly focused on assisting with the problem from a variety of angles, community involvement, water infrastructure and wastewater treatment. These different types of solutions will help me consider and think about more interesting ways to help a city, and why different cities respond to their situations differently, attempting varied solutions.

For a deeper understanding of how the organisation can effectively help me in my investigation, I’d like to further investigate into the history of this organisation, and how their methods to deal with drought have changed over time. They have an extended book on the entire history of the municipal, which I think might be a bit too detailed, however I hope to find the information I need there.

Some interesting Maps

This water system stretches from Sierra to the City, it’s maintained by the SPUC and includes a complex range of pipelines, reserviors and treatment systems. It’s the third largest system in all of California, giving 2.6 million people water and sewage systems everyday. One of the more interesting thing about this water system is that the entire thing is pretty much fuelled by gravitational power, meaning it’s oil consumption or alternate fossil fuel use, is extremely low. Wholesale water deliveries are supplied to 26 suburban agencies in Alameda. 1/3 of the water is given to retail customers in San Francisco, whilst the other 2/3 are supplied to the Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

This water system is composed to two main sources, the Hetch Hetchy water shed, and the Alameda and Peninsula Sources. Hetch Hetchy is an area near the Yosemite National Park, it’s the largest source of water income as it provides San Francisco with 85% of the water they are using, and can hold up to 117 billion gallons of drinking water. The watershed brings its water in from the spring snowmelt from the Tuolumne River. The Tuolumne River is the largest reservoir Hetch Hetchy. An interesting fact about Hetch Hetchy, is that the quality of the water is considered good enough to be able to be left unfiltered, however the surface layer of the water is still obviously treated.

This map is an online interactive ARCGIS map which defines all of the economically friendly projects are going on around San Fransisco, in order to try and introduce new water infrastructure around the city. The constructions are an attempt to store and gather stormwater, in order to prevent sewage overflow, as well as provide an alternate source for drinking water. San Fransisco is actually the only city in California which effectively treats stormwater and produces it as a natural drinking source.

A traffic calming method that extends the sidewalk, reducing the distance to cross the street, increasing pedestrian visibility and safety. These can include green technologies to capture and treat stormwater. What this basically means, is that several projects are being undertaken throughout San Fransisco, all of which takes advantage of the natural properties of soil and plants to clean stormwater and keep it from overflowing the City's sewer system. These projects include, building small gardens through extending the pedestrian side walks (fig 1), allowing for permeable paving which absorbs storm water, making rain gardens, and implementing storm water irrigation.

Some of the benefits of these structures apart from water benefits includes improvement of the aesthetic of the city. Some projects include building small garden pods which not only decrease the length of pedestrian crossings, but also improves street conditions for bicyclists, introduce more biodiversity into the city, through the variety of plants and creating habitats for the animals which live within the gardens. cleans groundwater, improvement of the city’s air quality and reduces the cost of wastewater.

Some interesting statistics

I think that it's important to always remember that implement good understanding of how we neglect our water usage. The price of water can always affect the way we view it. Especially in developed countries, water is easily taken for granted when the price for it is underrated. Below you can begin to compare how different countries treat the cost of their water.

Final project