Opening the watershed
The area just west of Crystal Springs Reservoir is limited to docent-led tours. The resolution being considered would allow increased public access to the forested open space. Google Earth 

On Sept. 27, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will consider a nonbinding resolution by supervisors John Avalos, Scott Wiener and David Campos that urges the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to allow unmanaged public access into the remote areas of the 23,000-acre San Francisco Peninsula watershed, generally north of Highway 92 and west of the Crystal Springs Lakes.

The Avalos-Wiener-Campos resolution is in response to recreational advocates who have been pushing to “open up” currently protected areas of the watershed to mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians. Proponents are touting “responsible” access, but, unfortunately, not everyone behaves responsibly.

The SFPUC’s Peninsula Watershed Management Plan, which governs all activities in the watershed, weighed the risks and benefits and concluded that “access to the interior parts of the watershed to unescorted individuals poses an extreme risk of fires as well as a higher risk of degradation of water quality and ecological resources.”

The risk of catastrophic wildfire is real. According to Cal Fire, 95 percent of California’s wildland fires are caused by humans. The devastating Big Sur Soberanes fire, which has become the state’s costliest fire to fight, and the 2013 Yosemite Rim fire, which burned the largest area (257,000 acres) in the Sierra, were both started by illegal campfires in out-of-bounds areas. It would take only one match to turn the Peninsula watershed into a disaster zone.

The Peninsula watershed is not a park; it is our water supply. For more than 150 years, it has been managed to ensure its protection. Customers of Coastside County Water District would be particularly hard hit by a devastating wildfire in the watershed, as 72 percent of CCWD’s water comes from Pilarcitos and Crystal Springs reservoirs.

The watershed also has the highest concentration of rare, threatened and endangered species in the nine-county Bay Area. As a state-designated Fish and Game Refuge, it is home to mountain lions, bald eagles and threatened marbled murrelets.

There are hundreds of miles of trails already accessible to residents of the coast, the north Peninsula and San Francisco in nearby county, state and national parks, as well as in Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District preserves.

Two chapters of Sierra Club, three chapters of Audubon, two chapters of the California Native Plant Society and the Committee for Green Foothills strongly support expanding the upgrading the existing docent program in the watershed to provide additional opportunities for increased, managed access while protecting our water supply and wildlife habitats.

An expanded docent program and new partnerships with local schools, youth groups and other community organizations such as Latino Outdoors and Sierra Club’s Connections Outdoors would provide additional educational opportunities and programs for underserved communities, while still protecting the watershed’s natural habitats, endangered species, and minimizing risks.

Public surveys and polls over the years have overwhelmingly supported protection of our drinking water supply and quality over increased access and recreational uses.

The SFPUC should maintain existing controls over public access in these remote areas and improve the docent program. The increased risks of fire, vandalism, and other possible acts of destruction, are simply too great when you consider what’s at stake.

Lennie Roberts is legislative advocate for Committee for Green Foothills.

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