Rim Fire still smoldering in Yosemite, but Hetch Hetchy water remains clean 

click to enlarge Smoke from the Rim Fire partially obscures Kolana Rock near the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on Tuesday. The reservoir serves 2.6 million Bay Area customers. - CHRIS ROBERTS/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Chris Roberts/The S.F. Examiner
  • Smoke from the Rim Fire partially obscures Kolana Rock near the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on Tuesday. The reservoir serves 2.6 million Bay Area customers.

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — Cloudy, with a near-100 percent chance of clear water.

Evidence of the Rim Fire is all around the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The third-largest wildfire in California history burned most of the southern edge and part of the northern side of the reservoir, which holds 85 percent of the water delivered to San Francisco and other Bay Area locales, since it began Aug. 17.

On Tuesday, smoke nearly hid the reservoir from view on the 8-mile approach from Camp Mather, the city-owned vacation spot in the Sierra Nevada. Upon reaching O'Shaughnessy Dam, haze obscured Kolana Rock, the granite dome that is the area's answer to world-famous Half Dome in Yosemite Valley.

Telltale patches of brown among the evergreen conifers show where the fire burned, and puffs of smoke from the occasional spot fire can be seen; they will remain until the wildfire is entirely extinguished.

But for the 2.6 million businesses and residents in the Bay Area who rely on the water from the Tuolumne River — piped 167 miles away from the source — it's as if the fire had never happened.

The turbidity — the level of cloudiness in the water caused by ash or other sediment — in drinking water delivered from Hetch Hetchy has barely changed from before the fire, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Still, the area is closed to the public and will be for the foreseeable future, said park spokesman Scott Gediman, who added that there is no reopening date set.

With the water clear, the real challenge will be in the wintertime, when rains could cause landslides on weakened hillsides where grasses, shrubs and trees have burned away.

About 44 percent of the 256,000 acres that had burned as of Wednesday experienced either high or moderate damage to the soil, according to a U.S. Forest Service damage assessment team.

Those are the areas most susceptible to landslides. Slides could put debris into the water, but will more likely threaten washouts for roads that lead to the reservoir and The City's power lines and hydroelectric stations.

A final report by the Burned Area Emergency Response team is due Friday and will be shared with the SFPUC, which is still assessing damage and figuring out who will pay for it all — and when.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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