I-Team investigates water waste during the drought

PACIFICA, Calif. (KGO) -- Right in the middle of this drought emergency, officials at San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks are facing a serious accusation that they've allowed a massive water leak at a golf course to continue for years.

The former supervisor at Sharp Park Golf Course complained about water leaks and other safety problems for years, and now he has filed a lawsuit accusing the city of retaliating against him because of it.

Wayne Kappelman lives for golf as a past-time and a profession. Two years ago, a golf industry magazine chose him as its "Person of the Year." They described the superintendent as "a sharp mind at Sharp Park" for addressing concerns over the endangered San Francisco garter snakes and red-legged frogs at the course, where golfers play 50,000 rounds each year.

Kappelman lost his job at Sharp Park, his lawyer, Greg Brock, explained to the I-Team. "As he rocks the boat, the city begins to come down on him," Brock said.

His attorney said Kappelman can't speak to the media because his contract with the city forbids it. In his lawsuit, Kappelman claims the city retaliated against him for repeatedly complaining to supervisors about the following:
  • "A leak on seventh tee ... gushing from a pipe even though the valve was turned off."

  • "Water leaks on fairway numbers 4 and 13 ... usually made holes that were tripping hazards."

  • "The leak of 50,000 gallons of water per day that had existed since the winter of 2011."

  • Attorney Greg Brock told Dan Noyes, "He first made a report about the water leaks in 2011, shortly after he took over as the superintendent."

    Noyes: "And they continued how long?"

    Brock: "As far as i know, they still haven't been fixed."

    Doug Parker from the California Institute for Water Resources tells the I-Team, "It certainly sort of shows a lack of caring about the drought."

    Parker adds the amount of water lost at Shark Park wouldn't make much of a difference in the state-wide drought, but that everyone needs to do their part. "50,000 gallons of water per day is equal to 600, the consumption of water between 600 to 1000 people, so per capita use, or maybe about two swimming pools," Park said.

    The Recreation and Park Department declined to be interviewed and directed us to the City Attorney's office, which said only there is no merit to Kappelman's lawsuit. Noyes tracked down Rec and Park general manager Phil Ginsburg before a hearing at City Hall last week and asked about the leaks at Sharp Park.

    Noyes: "How do you respond to this not being fixed for four years?"
    Ginsburg: "Well, that's probably not exactly accurate. There are a series of leaks in the system
    and we manage them as best we can."

    The irrigation system at Sharp Park is more than 80 years old. Ginsburg said he has plans to replace it, but that the project is complicated because of the protected species, the snakes and frogs. "And we are working through a number of habitat restoration and maintenance issues, and we kind of have to sequence the work at sharp to replace the irrigation system there," Ginsburg said.

    Ana Alvarez, the Superintendent of Parks and Open Space, disputes the 50,000 gallon leak figure and said the workers now respond to leaks quickly. "It's an irrigation system that we continue to work on, and it's a part of not only renovating a couple of pieces, but also to be able to problem solve in those specific locations where there's a need for an immediate response," Alvarez said.

    Beyond the golf course, Ginsburg said, the Rec and Park system as a whole has reduced water consumption by more than 20 percent during the past year and a half because of the drought.

    Also in his lawsuit, Wayne Kappelman says, despite his warnings, Rec and Park failed to address:

  • Seven hundred thirty-nine dead trees that could come down at any time"

  • "Old and unsafe equipment and vehicles"

  • "Containers that posed tripping hazards"

  • The City Attorney responds that much of it was Kappelman's duty to address that, and that he got suspended from the golf course for "insubordinate behavior, inattention to duty, poor judgment, and behavior unbecoming of a supervisor."

    But for all of us facing mandatory restrictions, the story is the water.

    Attorney Greg Brock says, "I don't think the city contests the fact that there were leaks at Sharp Park Golf Course. They just think it's Wayne's fault."

    "And he actually is no longer there, he's in a different area. And the team that's there now is actually managing water very effectively," said Ginsburg.

    All sides in this say it's impossible to add up exactly how much water was lost during the past few years. Kappelman is now assigned to another park that doesn't have a golf course.

    If you have a tip for our next investigation, call 1-888-40-I-Team.

    For full coverage on the drought, click here.
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