Changes in store for Lake Merced, but are they fast enough?

Lake Merced aerial

Image via SFPUC.

By Nick Moone

Local residents and users of Lake Merced packed a meeting there this week, many hoping to work toward a resolution of the issues facing San Francisco’s urban lake, but some of them were disappointed in what they actually got.

“We came here to try and work out some solutions to these problems. This was supposed to be a workshop. Instead, they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes to make us think things are getting done,” Erin Greenmore, a 30-year resident of the city, said at the special meeting of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

There’s no shortage of problems facing the lake.

Although water levels have risen from the lows a decade ago that left fishing piers stranded far from the shore, maintaining water quality and keeping levels up is an ongoing challenge. And San Franciscans’ ideas of what kinds of recreational activities are appropriate don’t always agree, as the political wrangling over the shooting range of the Pacific Rod and Gun Club shows.

And perhaps most confusing for many people is the complex system that leaves the SFPUC in charge of some elements of managing the lake and the Recreation and Park Department in charge of others.

Lake level and groundwater

Steven Ritchie, assistant general manager of the Water Enterprise arm of the SFPUC, began the meeting with a presentation on the Lake Merced Watershed report, a 188 page in-depth document covering the “general guidelines and and strategies that define the ultimate purpose and aim of management,” for the Lake Merced area.

Several projects are underway that will help stabilize water levels at the lake, Ritchie told the dozens of people crammed into an upstairs room at the Harding Park Golf Course clubhouse.

“While right now I don’t have the exact numbers, I believe that it is at what would be quantified as a healthy level,” said Ritchie.

One of the projects Ritchie said would help lake levels is the San Francisco Groundwater Project, a plan to install four new wells along the western side of the city. According to the SFPUC, the groundwater project is designed to provide San Francisco with approximately 4 million gallons of local, sustainable groundwater every day.

“Lake Merced is a source of emergency drinking water for the city, so we want to make sure that it stays viable as such a resource,” said Ritchie.

Management changes

SFPUC President Art Torres said the purpose of the Lake Merced meeting was a “gathering of information” about public opinion to guide future planning and management of the lake.

But some at the meeting said they were frustrated by the slow pace of change, including shifts in how the dual bureaucracy of the SFPUC and Rec-Park have split responsibilities at the lake over the past decades.

“We need you to have the political courage to take action,” said one speaker.

The SFPUC and the Recreation and Park Department are working on an update to their management responsibilities at Lake Merced.

Under the proposed agreement, the SFPUC would have overarching responsibility for the lake and some adjacent lands. It would manage the lake itself, including water levels and quality, and would oversee the Pacific Rod and Gun Club’s lease and the cleanup of the club’s site on the southern edge of the lake.

The Recreation and Park Department would manage Harding Park Golf Course and the boathouse, and provide maintenance and gardening services.

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  1. Drinking water?!? R u kidding?? Has this guy Ritchie actually been to the lakes? I’d love to c him gulp down a few green algae pints!

    Instead of continuously fighting a losing battle against nature, when will it dawn on these PUC dingbats that the lakes aren’t a free golf course water system but instead a pressure relief valve for Ocean Beach. If they were to concentrate their limited attention spans and our millions of dollars on ‘restoration of tidal flushing and brackish water wetlands’ at the lakes you’d have more and better fish and amazing other wildlife and clean (albeit slightly salty) water. Some golf courses now can even tolerate salty water (desal water is generally more salty than fresh water).

  2. One would think that after all these years of mulling over conditions at Lake Merced as it shockingly went downhill the bureaucrats would have their ducks in a row but that is not the case. These two particular governmental entities are notorious for inefficiency and for neglecting the public’s interest in favor of private groups, like in this instance the gun club and the golf course, neither of which should be allowed to degrade Lake Merced any further any longer. The chance of that happening? Nil.

  3. How would installing drinking water wells in the west part of the city help lake levels? It seems sucking groundwater would lower lake levels, not help them.


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