How to save a 100-year-old water system that serves the San Francisco Bay Area

Like much of our nation’s infrastructure, the aging water system was at the limits of its lifespan.

Since the early 1930s, San Francisco’s drinking water has flowed from the Hetch Hetchy Valley of northwestern Yosemite, over a three-day journey funneling through a myriad of pipes along 167 miles before landing in city reservoirs and out its taps. Its pristine nature has long been a source of bragging rights for San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission, which even bottles and sells Hetch Hetchy water. 

Molly Duggan Associates has worked on some of the most significant engineering and infrastructure programs in the world. Starting in 2000, Molly Duggan Associates worked with Bechtel — one of the most respected engineering, construction, and project management companies in the world — and continued working with the mega water program for over a decade.

The Water System Improvement Program (WSIP) is a $4.8 billion multi-year capital program to upgrade the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) regional and local water systems. The program will deliver capital improvements that enhance the SFPUC’s ability to provide reliable, affordable, high-quality drinking water in an environmentally sustainable manner to 2.7 million people in the greater Bay Area. The program consists of 87 projects – 35 local projects located within San Francisco and 52 regional projects, spread over seven counties from the Sierra foothills to San Francisco. The current forecasted date to complete the overall WSIP is December 2021.

The program is funded by a bond measure approved by San Francisco voters in November 2002. It will be paid for by both retail customers in San Francisco and 26 wholesale customers that serve Alameda, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties.

The cities, water districts, and private utilities represented by the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) rely upon the Hetch Hetchy system for water to protect the health, safety, and economic well-being of 1.8 million citizens, businesses, and community organizations. 

Stakeholder outreach and clear communication are essential on any infrastructure project and critical when spans multiple counties and 167 miles. The internal and external stakeholders significantly impact the success of the program. When managed strategically, the stakeholders in partnership with program leaders can begin resolving emerging issues before those issues impact cost and schedule. 

Our mission is to provide our customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that is inclusive of environmental and community interests, and that sustains the resources entrusted to our care. — SFPUC Water System Improvement Program

To help ensure the program’s success Molly Duggan Associates delivered a strategic communications along with web-based tools to manage emerging issues. What started as developing the program’s website and brand identity grew into a deep and broad understanding of WSIP’s strengths and challenges. 

Building a City on a Watershed: Before & After

2012-02-15 13.27.19-12012-02-15 13.27.19
Working together SFPUC and Molly Duggan Associates developed a phased strategic approach to communications for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Water System Improvement Program (WSIP)."​