CA Lake Merced cleanup plans out in space


Mar 11, 2001
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Lake Merced cleanup plans out in space

Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle.

Sunday, December 16, 2001

When it comes to getting something done for Lake Merced in San Francisco, the "man-on-the-moon syndrome" has become the defining test.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy made the famous speech where he said we'd send a man to the moon before the end of that decade. On July 20, 1969 -- 8 years and 56 days later -- we did it.

On Oct. 4, 1993, John Mullane, general manager of the San Francisco Water Department, wrote State Sen. Quentin Kopp: "Our goal is to create the means for managing Lake Merced and the underlying aquifer in a manner that maximizes use of reclaimed water."

It's now been 8 years, 70 days since that statement, 15 days longer than it took to put a man on the moon, and nothing has been done. Despite promises to the contrary, Daly City and the three big golf courses are still sucking the life out of Lake Merced instead of using reclaimed water for irrigation.

The lake's continually low water levels and poor water quality have caused a loss of dissolved oxygen, so severe that trout plants are sometimes suspended because the fish would not survive. The aquatic food chain, once supported by freshwater shrimp and identified by state biologists as the richest aquatic lake system in California, is near dead.

For newcomers, it might seem difficult to imagine that Lake Merced was once America's most prized urban trout fishing lake and one of San Francisco's crown jewels.

The water level has been drawn down 40 percent for so long that tules 30 feet across have grown on exposed lakebed and choked off shore access. Fishing piers are either damaged or out of the water, and a long-broken boat hoist sits over a dry lakebed.

But this story is now taking yet another twist.

You may remember in October that there was a big dog-and-pony show at City Hall over how Lake Merced was about to be saved. Mayor Willie Brown and Supervisor Tony Hall, along with lawyers, water department and Public Utilities Commission officials, held a press conference and committed to signing contracts by Dec. 17 to use recycled water for irrigation instead of pumping from the Merced aquifer.

Well, Dec. 17 is tomorrow, and insiders acknowledge, "It ain't gonna happen. "

At this rate, you might as well plan for a man on Mars before Lake Merced is protected and restored.

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