Anger brews over golf course's thirstBy Mario Dianda
Among the environmentally conscious, recycling usually is considered a good thing. Finding another use for something already used, rather than wasting it, helps sustain our planet of finite resources, the thinking goes.
So when the North Coast County Water District recently proposed to irrigate the greens of the Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica with more than 30 million gallons a year of treated sewage water instead of precious drinking water, it may have expected some accolades.
Instead, the water district has drawn the wrath of environmentalists convinced that political machinations kept the project under the radar until it was too late to stop it. They're also concerned the tank would ruin a wilderness that is habitat to threatened wildlife species such as the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake.
For them, the problem is that water from the nearby Calera Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant would be stored inside a 38-foot-high, 400,000-gallon steel tank in a wooded canyon of Sharp Park currently used as a rustic archery range.
Where the tank would go is "one of the most beautiful canyons in the world," said Brent Plater, a visiting environmental law and justice instructor at San Francisco's Golden Gate University.
Noting that a red-legged frog has been detected at a pond near the proposed tank, Plater said the water district should be forced to conduct a full-fledged environmental impact report before it's allowed to build anything.
Stan Kaufman, an active member of San Francisco's volunteers natural areas program, agrees. "This is the largest, most natural, most diverse the best chunk of the natural area of San Francisco parks system," he said. "Anybody hiking there would throw up when they hear of the plan."
Kaufman said he and many others don't understand how the North Coast Water District, which buys water from San Francisco and delivers it to Pacifica and San Bruno, can usurp the authority of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department.
The agency administers both Sharp Park and the Sharp Park Golf Course, which a family endowed to San Francisco generations ago under the condition that the land always is used for recreation and open space.
Kevin O'Connell, general manager of the North Coast County Water District, bristles at the suggestion that any underhanded deals were cut, saying he finds that line of thinking troublesome. "We have absolutely nothing to hide here."
The district buys water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which taps it from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir near Yosemite and oversees its delivery to San Francisco, the Peninsula and the San Mateo County coastside.
O'Connell said an environmental review in 2004 concluded that a spot in Sharp Park where the water district originally wanted to build the tank is prone to landslides.
After reviewing some alternative sites, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department recommended the proposed one, about 800 feet west of the original along the same alignment, O'Connell said. That the department did not notify natural area volunteers until late in the process isn't the water district's fault, he said.
"This will save about 50 million gallons of potable water a year," O'Connell said, noting that drinking water not used to irrigate the golf course will benefit district's customers.
Although the water district is authorized to proceed, O'Connell said time is of the essence. The $10 million project - besides the tank, a three-mile pipeline and a pumping station must be built - hinges on a $3.4 million state Water Resources Board grant the district must spend by September 2008, O'Connell said.
Though Sharp Park is a beautiful spot, O'Connell said it's hardly pristine wilderness. A couple of archery targets surround the proposed tank site and just 100 yards away stands an outhouse. Nor is the grove of eucalyptus trees - some of which may have to be removed - indigenous to the coast.
O'Connell said the site will be minimally disturbed to allow access and he dispelled rumors that the tank will be lit at night. He said there will be lighting, but it will only be turned on if repairs or other work may have to be done at night.
Critics of the project aren't appeased, arguing it's better to fully assess the environmental consequences of a tank and pipeline in the park than rush to build just because the money is available now.
Sunday at 10 a.m. local environmentalists Jake Sigg and Jon Campo plan to lead a walking tour of the area to drum up public opinion against the project, beginning at the Sanchez Creek Canyon parking lot.
Copyright ©2007 Pacifica Tribune. Published 02/21/2007.