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Water and Power Review

Water and Power Review

Report of the
1999-2000 San Francisco Civil Grand Jury

BACKGROUND

The Civil Grand Jury toured the facilities at the Moccasin, California powerhouse and the watershed facilities at the O'Shaughnessy Dam. This Report is intended to alert the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to some apparent shortcomings involving the facilities and to issues impacting the staff who manage and maintain the properties. Due to repair work to the roadbed leading to Hetch Hetchy, the Civil Grand Jury had to delay its visit to the facilities until May 2000. Since our visit occurred near the end of our term in office, it was not feasible to adequately investigate and report on the apparent shortcomings discussed below. It is suggested that the 2000-2001 Civil Grand Jury consider the conducting of a further review or investigation.

1. Moccasin Powerhouse Facilities

The City owns 44 residential houses at the village. Twenty-one houses, with one exception, are currently occupied by City employees. These houses are rented to City employees at below market rental rates. Apparently, during the past ten years or so, the houses were not re-rented as they became vacant while awaiting completion of a study by the PUC as to whether the homes should be rented to the general public and employees at current market rental rates. The vacant houses are deteriorating. Roofs have not been repaired, and water leaks are damaging the properties. The houses are not insulated, have single-pane glass windows and use electric heaters at high cost to provide heat. Based on a review of PUC minutes, it appears that the PUC has been working on developing a housing policy since at least January 1993.

The City benefits by renting to employees, in that they can be called upon to respond to emergencies at the powerhouse and their presence helps to prevent vandalism at the powerhouse and the rest of the City-owned facilities, including housing.

The PUC should conclude its study and take action to determine how the houses will be used. All of the houses require upgrading to current standards. The Civil Grand Jury believes that renting the houses to employees at a discount, due to the remoteness of the location, and the unavailability of housing near the powerhouse, makes more sense than a policy which would introduce outsiders to an area vulnerable to vandalism and possible terrorism directed at the powerhouse. The ability to have employees on site to respond to emergencies is a reasonable trade-off to providing subsidized housing.

Because of their place of employment, employees who work at the Moccasin Powerhouse and at the nearby Hetch Hetchy facilities are disadvantaged with respect to exercising their options to fully participate in various health plan options enjoyed by other City employees. There is no Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) operating in the area, thus restricting employees to large deductibles and co-payments under the City basic health plan. Consideration should be given to adopting a plan with similar benefits to an HMO for employees who are unable to elect to participate in a local HMO. The Civil Grand Jury believes that employees who accept employment in remote locations should not be financially disadvantaged because of the locale of their place of employment.

2. O'Shaughnessy Dam

The Hetch Hetchy watershed currently supplies the San Francisco Bay Area with approximately 240 million gallons of water a day. It is the main source of water for San Francisco (approximately 80 percent) and numerous other Bay Area water users. In the event of disruption of the water being supplied, San Francisco and the other users would sustain significant and perhaps long lasting economic and personal consequences. Businesses and residents who rely on this resource could be severely impacted. Our limited review of the facilities indicated the following potential problems:

  1. Staff manually operate valves that control the amount of water released at the dam. A prolonged rainfall and/or snow melt can result in rapid filling of the dam. It can take up to 12 hours to open all valves to allow sufficient water release to protect the dam and surrounding area from flooding were the dam to exceed its normal capacity. An electronically-operated system could reduce the valve opening time to 1 to 2 hours.

  2. It appears that the emergency plan designed for the dam may never have been tested. Also, onsite employees have not been given any training with respect to the plan.

  3. In the event of a potential emergency at the dam, onsite staff have to contact and obtain authorization from multiple levels of management before approval to deal with a perceived emergency is granted. The chain of command for making decisions in the event of an emergency should be streamlined to provide for a quick response to requests for authorization. There should be a 24-hour standby manager identified for any emergency situations, and the onsite staff should be updated daily as to the name and contact method for reaching that manager.

  4. Daily waterflow control is in part maintained by resort to historical records, which are manually accessed to determine the number of valves to be opened and amount of water to be released through each valve. This is done by determining how wide the valve should be opened, physically opening the valve, and then physically inspecting the flow from a site downstream from the dam and reading waterflow measurements at the downstream site.

    One employee performs all the daily functions at the dam. Consideration should be given to technologically upgrading the process. There is too much reliance on one employee performing all the functions. In the event of injury or illness, the sole employee has no ability to seek help from certain areas within the dam. Cellphones do not operate from within the dam and there are no hard-wired telephone lines or phones at various worksites within the dam. Work within the dam requires climbing up and down ladders to reach various levels. In the event of injury, it could take hours to render assistance to the injured employee from the time of notification. The risk to the employee and to the operation of the dam appears to be unacceptable.

SYSTEM UPGRADES

Repairs and seismic upgrades to the Hetch Hetchy Water System have been estimated to range between $2-3 billion. The cost, if passed on to ratepayers, would result in at least a doubling of current water rates. The City currently realizes revenues from power sales from the water system, one-half of which goes into the general fund and the balance used to maintain the system. Capital improvements are needed and should be funded in order to avert a potential disaster due to an earthquake or deterioration to the system. Consideration should be given to evaluating the construction of a dual system using current seismic standards in addition to upgrading the existing system. Delaying the implementation of upgrades is likely to result in increased expense and subject the City to unnecessary risk of water system failure. The need for upgrading the system appears obvious to this Grand Jury and work should be funded and commenced as quickly as possible.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendation (1)

The PUC should conclude its housing study and take action to determine how the houses will be used. All of the houses require upgrading to current standards. The Civil Grand Jury believes that renting the houses to employees at a discount, due to the remoteness of the location, and the unavailability of housing near the powerhouse, makes more sense than a policy which would introduce outsiders to an area vulnerable to vandalism and possible terrorism directed at the powerhouse. The ability to have employees on site to respond to emergencies is a reasonable trade-off to providing subsidized housing.

Required Response

The PUC

Recommendation (2)

Consideration should be given to adopting a plan with similar benefits to an HMO for employees who are unable to elect to participate in a local HMO. Employees who accept employment in remote locations should not be financially disadvantaged because of the locale of their place of employment.

Required Response

The PUC

Recommendation (3)

Consideration should be given to installing an electronically-operated system to open and close valves that control the amount of water released at O'Shaughnessy Dam.

Required Response

The PUC

Recommendation (4)

Regarding dam safety plans, if the plans have not been tested then they should be. Training with respect to the plan should be given to onsite employees. The chain of command for action authorization should be streamlined.

Required Response

The PUC

Recommendation (5)

Regular operations at O'Shaughnessy Dam should be improved by giving consideration to technologically upgrading the process. There is too much reliance on one employee performing all the functions. In the event of injury or illness, the sole employee has no ability to seek help from certain areas within the dam. In the event of injury, it could take hours to render assistance to the injured employee from the time of notification. The risk to the employee and to the operation of the dam appears to be unacceptable. These risks should be evaluated and mitigated.

Required Response

The PUC

Recommendation (6)

Capital improvements to the Hetch Hetchy Water System are needed and should be funded in order to avert a potential disaster due to an earthquake or deterioration to the system. Consideration should be given to evaluating the construction of a dual system using current seismic standards in addition to upgrading the existing system. Delaying the implementation of upgrades is likely to result in increased expense and subject the City to the unnecessary risk of water system failure. The need for upgrading the system appears obvious to this Grand Jury and work should be funded and commenced as quickly as possible.

Required Response

The PUC

Last updated: 9/15/2009 12:47:33 PM