San Francisco Forms Plans to Enhance Security of Water System

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. -- San Francisco's mayor announced a partnership Thursday between the city and the National Parks Service to enhance security and environmental protection of the watershed that provides the Bay Area most of its water.

About 2.4 million customers in the San Francisco Bay area get their water through the 167-mile aqueduct, which extends from Yosemite National Park to San Francisco.

Standing on a patio overlooking the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, Mayor Gavin Newsom discussed a five-year, $15 million plan for the watershed that includes maintenance of trails and camping areas, as well as security improvements within the park.

"We'll do what we can to secure the system," he said. "We've done a lot, but not enough."

Newsom's announcement came shortly after a recent city audit that criticized the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission for failing to protect the aqueduct from terrorism, vandalism and theft. The audit, released by the Board of Supervisors' Budget Analyst, found that the agency has not spent nearly $4 million set aside for security improvements and has been slow to install electronic monitoring equipment. It also pointed to concerns that emergency operation plans were not regularly updated.

Newsom, the first mayor to visit Hetch Hetchy in 10 years, also announced Thursday the establishment of a new position within the city's Public Utilities Commission.

Greg Suhr, currently with the San Francisco Police Department, will be the commission's new chief of security starting Sept. 6. He will spend his first two months in office reviewing the commission's plan for dealing with emergencies along the regional water system, which delivers water from the Sierra Nevada to the Bay Area through a system of tunnels, dams, reservoirs and pipes.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Susan Leal couldn't provide details of the physical improvements planned for the system because of security reasons. But she said officials were working with counterterrorism experts to find the best monitoring technology and planned to install more cameras, self-closing gates, alarms and other equipment to protect exposed parts of the system. Cooperation with law enforcement agencies in the seven counties and numerous cities, which the system courses through, would be an essential part of the new security plan, Leal added.

Yosemite National Park's Superintendent Michael Tollefson said the partnership between the park and the city officials was essential because "we have a common goal - protecting and managing this watershed."