vote_lede_template.jpgAn environmental group Wednesday filed papers with the intent to qualify an initiative for the November ballot designed to force San Francisco to dismantle its water system in Yosemite National Park’s Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Restore Hetch Hetchy, a group whose aim is to restore the valley to its natural state, filed the papers with the city’s Department of Elections around 11 a.m. today.

The city attorney’s office will review the papers and is required to provide a ballot title and summary for the initiative within 15 days. The group will then have to get 9,702 signatures by July 9 to qualify the measure for the ballot.

According to the group, the 1923 damming of the Tuolumne River to create a reservoir in the Hetch Hetchy Valley has destroyed the habitat and also led to increased pollution of San Francisco Bay.

If the initiative qualifies for the ballot and is approved by voters in November, it would force the city to formulate a plan to improve use of its local water supplies and stop using water from Hetch Hetchy by 2035, Restore Hetch Hetchy executive director Mike Marshall said today.

The plan would be crafted by a five-member board, consisting of one member each from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency and three appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

The board would hold regular public meetings and submit a plan by Nov. 1, 2015 to the city attorney, who would create a charter amendment for implementation of the plan, which voters would then vote on in the November 2016 election.

Marshall said, “Voters in San Francisco instinctively want to do the right thing when it comes to the environment, and this initiative simply requires the city to respond to those aspirations.”

He said, “San Francisco has the opportunity to go from last in line relative to water management and natural resource management to first in the nation.”

However, the Bay Area Council, a coalition of local business groups, released a statement today blasting the proposal, which it said is being backed by U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren, a Republican from Sacramento, and would cost at least $10 billion.

“This ill-conceived measure would wreak havoc on the Bay Area, degrading water quality for 2.5 million residents and thousands of businesses in San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, and Santa Clara counties, decimating our historic water rights, eliminating a vital source of clean power and dramatically increasing our carbon footprint,” the council said.

“As we are experiencing one of the driest winters in recent memory, we should be exploring ways to improve our water infrastructure, not tear it down,” the council said.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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