Harlan Kelly Jr., PE

One program, five regions, 81 projects

Programmatic & construction-management oversight

Regional construction managemen

Editor's note: Pity San Francisco's drinking water managers.

In addition to providing electricity and treating wastewater for 800,000 residents, their employer — the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission — treats and sells water to 26 agencies that serve an additional 1.7 million people.

The source of that water is in a mountain range 167 miles away. San Francisco built and maintains the infrastructure — 280 miles of pipelines, 60 miles of tunnels, 11 reservoirs, five pump stations, and two treatment plants — that comprises the delivery system that brings this water to consumers. The city's suburbs consume and pay for two-thirds of this water but own none of the system's assets.

To fortify the system upon which the entire region depends, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission water managers are halfway through an improvement plan 10 times larger than anything they — or virtually any other water utility nationwide — have undertaken.

Determined that their concerns about this effort will be adequately addressed, suburban water agencies petitioned the California legislature to pass Assembly Bill 1823 to accelerate the system's restoration. In addition to participating in decision-making, they've engaged San Francisco City Hall as well as other oversight boards to scrutinize the performance of the Water System Improvement Program.

Now imagine jockeying for resources in an organization that relies almost solely on rate revenue for operations and capital improvements. The commission's conservation messaging has been so effective that daily per-capita consumption throughout metropolitan San Francisco is about 88 gallons, 15% less than a decade ago; and revenue has fallen correspondingly.

The San Francisco Mayor's Office created the "assistant general manager for infrastructure" position in 2003 and appointed 27-year employee Harlan Kelly Jr. because of his success in delivering recent capital programs and navigating government bureaucracy as a public works engineer since 1984 and city engineer beginning in 1996.

The approach Kelly outlines here illustrates how the commission retooled program- and project-management processes to minimize cost overruns and schedule slippage. Reorganizing allowed his team to start delivering the program in a more dynamic and urgent manner.

It's easy for people to underestimate the difficulty of safely bringing water from a source 167 miles away across the San Andreas, Hayward, and Calaveras faults.

It's not easy for us local and regional water managers to forget.

In 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake compelled the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to jump-start a major overhaul of the gravity-fed Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System. The 6.9-magnitude disruption along the San Andreas Fault, just 62 miles from the city, made managers there and the 26 suburban agencies that depend on the system take a hard look at its condition.

Loma Prieta was the system's first real test since the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. Water mains in San Francisco's Marina District failed, but only 3% of customers lost service and no dams or transmission lines were affected. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, though, there's a 63% chance of a 6.7- magnitude or higher quake within the next 30 years. Considering the devastation in 1989, assets can't withstand another assault. Lack of redundancies could leave almost 2.5 million people without safe drinking water for 30 or more days.

In 1995, we began assessing the condition of facilities and vulnerability to earthquakes, landslides, flood, fire, and general wear and tear. The results showed we needed to upgrade existing infrastructure and build additional facilities to reduce or mitigate potential hazard exposures. At the same time, we initiated a supply-planning effort with our wholesale customers. This culminated in the Water Supply Master Plan, which was adopted in 2000. A long-term strategic plan for capital improvements, a long-range financial plan, and a capital improvement program for the commission were adopted and began implementation two years later, as were Propositions A and E, San Francisco ballot measures that approved financing and rate increases to service the debt.

Additional studies refined the scope and magnitude of the capital program since the Water Supply Master Plan. In November 2004 a technical report on wholesale customer demand projections updated the 2030 planning horizon demands. Analyses of system performance under various operating conditions assessed the effectiveness of the proposed regional water projects. Concurrently, a regional operational strategy/principles document was written to explain current and future system operating goals, constraints, and strategies.

After a revised operational document was adopted in late 2005, the capital improvement program was renamed the Water System Improvement Program (WSIP): 86 projects worth an estimated $4.6 billion to be completed by 2015.

The commission's long-term capital improvement program is designed to meet very aggressive level-of-service goals: deliver the average winter-month demand within 24 hours of a major earthquake and the system's average-day demand within 30 days. Projects are designed based on the expectation of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake along the San Andreas Fault, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake along the Hayward Fault, and a 6.8-magnitude earthquake along the Calaveras Fault.