San Francisco has a very successful wastewater utility, but many parts of the system are over 100 years old, seismically vulnerable and occasionally overwhelmed during major storms. In recognition of this, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) launched the $6.9 billion Sewer System Improvement Program in 2010. The SFPUC has meanwhile been working to approach urban water management from an integrated, watershed-based perspective. This includes deploying an appropriate mix of traditional “grey” infrastructure along with new kinds of “green” infrastructure, which utilizes soil, plants and natural processes to manage stormwater, reduce flooding and improve the urban environment.
The Sewer System Improvement Program is now poised to channel significant new investment to integrated urban watershed planning and green infrastructure through a planning process called the Urban Watershed Assessment (UWA). The UWA, to be completed by the end of 2015, will evaluate and recommend opportunities for grey and green infrastructure projects and “scaled-up” programs — long-term, funded and staffed programs to support better citywide water management. As the city prepares to increase investment and focus attention to its wastewater system, SPUR — in partnership with the SFPUC — convened an advisory group to ask: What is needed to scale up green infrastructure in San Francisco? This paper summarizes what we learned and what we recommend as the SFPUC scales up both its investment and the visibility of San Francisco’s wastewater treatment system.