Tear down Hetch-Hetchy dam? Release a new Yosemite?

Two former attorney generals for the state of California, Dan Lungren, a Republican, and John Van de Kamp, a Democrat, together last week published an editorial calling for Congress to revise the Raker Act that allowed, back in l910, the flooding of a priceless valley called Hetch-Hetchy in Yosemite National Park. 

Hetch-Hetchy was deeply beloved by John Muir, who said it was second only to Yosemite Valley itself in terms of beauty. Muir just about killed himself organizing national opposition to the ruination of the valley. He wasn't able to stop it, but the efforts of himself and his allies did lead to the creation of what we know today as the environmental movement. 

The prospect of seeing Hetch-Hetchy surface entices. The AGs write:

Hetch Hetchy Valley was once home to a richly diverse ecosystem, surrounded by towering cliffs and waterfalls similar to those in neighboring Yosemite Valley. The Tuolumne River, the source of much of the Bay Area's water, flowed through it unobstructed. Today, most of Yosemite National Park's visitors crowd into Yosemite Valley, unaware of its submerged twin 15 miles to the north. Were the reservoir to be drained and Hetch Hetchy Valley restored, the world would rediscover one of America's great natural treasures and tourist pressure on Yosemite Valley would be relieved.

They also claim that San Francisco would be just fine without its water. The fact that San Francisco voters were consulted on the question and rejected it troubles them not a whit: 

A well-financed negative campaign ensured the proposition's defeat, in spite of numerous studies by government agencies, universities and independent groups that have concluded it would be possible for San Francisco to continue to obtain water from the Tuolumne River without storing it in Yosemite. Related reforms in the city's water system, such as the development of additional infrastructure and supply, are also feasible.

Bruce McGurk, who ran Hetch-Hetchy, politely called bullshit on this, um, plan. a point echoed in this story from last year in the Chronicle:

The battle over restoring the Hetch Hetchy dates back to the Reagan administration. Democrats have always smelled a GOP stunt that forces Democrats to defend a dam in a national park and lets Republicans quote John Muir about the splendor of mountains.

President Ronald Reagan's interior secretary, Donald Hodel, first proposed restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley in the 1980s, when Feinstein was mayor of San Francisco. The George W. Bush administration again proposed a study when Pelosi was House speaker. House Democrats removed funding for the study and blocked an attempt by Lungren to reinstate the money.

"The most powerful person in the House at the time was the speaker," Lungren said. "All I know is when I was debating it on the floor, I got some rather knowing looks from my friends on the Democratic side, and let's just say we didn't prevail."

Harrington said he can't debate Lungren's personal attachment to the park. "But let's face it," he said. "Everybody who has ever talked about going after Hetch Hetchy has been conservative Republicans who love to push it in San Francisco's face."

Which raises a question. Given that this scheme — er, proposal — has already been rejected by Congress and by the voters of San Francisco, why is the LA Times continuing to flog this dead horse?

Maybe to take a poke or two at the environmental hypocrisy — um, choices — of San Francisco? 


Had a chance to ask a real expert about this idea. This came after a press conference at the #AGU13 featuring a clever new NASA technology that uses old-fashioned airplanes to fly Lidar over the Sierras, the ASO.

At a press conference here at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco, Bruce McGurk, who for many years ran the Hetch-Hetchy reservoir, scoffed:

"They always make me laugh," he said. "Hetch-Hetchy provides a huge security for the city of San Francisco. The suggestion that they can store their water somewhere else — do they realize that the dam sites are already taken? And the immediate downstream dam, [San Pedro], has already been expanded, is privately owned, and they don't want to store San Francisco's water."

"The other issue is you'd probably have a $3 billion bill to expand water treatment facilities in the area, and then you'd have to operate them. With Hetch-Hetchy, we just add a little chorine and shoot some ultraviolet light at it and it doesn't have to go through treatment. So the water you drank this morning came out of the tap straight from Hetch-Hetchy." 

Yes, he said that. And went on to call this um — campaign —  "sniping" on the part of "some politicians." 




Add yours ↓
  1. Mather Matters

    Save the dam at Hetch Hetchy – save the water and clean power supply for San Francisco and the San Mateo Peninsula….

    You’re kind of nuts – hope you have a nice holiday.

    December 13, 2013
  2. Kit Stolz

    Ever hear of using headlines provocatively?

    Next time you might want to read the whole thing before you comment on it.

    December 14, 2013