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SF officials weighing fix for Hetch Hetchy tunnel

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POSTED August 14, 2014 8:35 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco is hiring outside consultants to help it decide whether it should repair or entirely replace an 89-year-old tunnel that is a vital part of the Hetch Hetchy water system supplying 2.6 million Bay Area homes and businesses.

The 19-mile-long Mountain Tunnel was left out of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s decade-long, $4.6 billion water-system overhaul. But San Francisco Public Utilities Commission assistant general manager Steve Ritchie tells the San Francisco Chronicle that more delay would increase the chances of a “catastrophic” collapse of the tunnel, cutting water flow for the region by 25 percent.

The city’s utility commission believes it’s time to finally tackle the long-postponed work on the Mountain Tunnel before that happens, Ritchie said.

A report released in January laid out two options for the tunnel work: spending more than $100 million to repair the tunnel, or spending $630 million to replace it, over about 10 years.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is hiring three outside consultants to help it study the two options and choose the best one, Ritchie said.

Water ratepayers and the utility commission’s hydropower customers would bear the cost of the work on the Mountain Tunnel.

Nicole Sandkulla, general manager of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, which services the utility commission’s more than 1.7 million customers outside San Francisco, says she believes the commission was right to tackle other, seismic-related work in the earlier, $4.6 billion project before taking on the Mountain Tunnel.

“This is different,” Sandkulla said. “As long as we stay focused and the PUC stays focused on making progress on near-term actions and long-term plans, we can manage this risk.”

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