Feeling the Heat: Fire in Yosemite

Today we are 11 days into the seventh largest fire in California's history. And it's not over yet.

As of this morning, the "Rim Fire" has burned 187,000 acres, including our beloved Berkeley family camp. San Francisco's family camp was barely spared, and the fire has now reached Hetch Hetchy, threatening both San Francisco's water and municipal energy sources. Eighty-five percent of San Francisco's water and 100 percent of its municipal power come from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and dam.

The Yosemite fire is only 23 percent contained. More than 4,000 brave firefighters are fighting the flames, and 90 utility workers are on site to assess and protect San Francisco's water and energy supply. Two of San Francisco's powerhouses have been taken offline, and San Francisco has been forced to dip into its "piggy bank" and purchase electricity on the open market. Too much ash or sediment in the reservoir could also trigger costly filtration of San Francisco's pristine water source. Several nearby towns are on evacuation alert, and 111 structures have been destroyed. Air quality in Nevada over 100 miles away is compromised, and schools in Tuolumne County remain closed. The survival of two of the last stands of giant sequoias on the planet is threatened, and the impact on wildlife is expected to be severe. So far, the cost of the fire has reached $27 million dollars.

Fortunately, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has been investing in making its water system more resilient through the $4.6 billion Water System Improvement Program. The emergency option to share water resources with neighboring water utilities, and the ability to increase filtered water flows through upgraded treatment facilities are what will allow 2.6 million Bay Area people to continue receiving clean drinking water even if the situation worsens.

The Rim Fire is a sober reminder of our need to be prepared -- not only for natural disasters such as wildfires and earthquakes, but for the changing climate that will bring even more disasters. We will see more water shortages and power disruptions and more threats to our utilities and communities. We need to invest in diversifying our water and energy supplies and developing local, sustainable and renewable sources. We need to act now.

Not only is it a matter of energy and water security, but one of financial and national security as well.