Restore Hetch Hetchy?


The big November election is almost here, and there’s a lot more at stake than the presidency. Among other things, residents of San Francisco will be voting on a measure which would be a first step to restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley. Proposition F, the “Water Sustainability and Environmental Restoration Planning Act” would require the City of San Francisco to develop plans for draining the water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and providing replacement sources of water and energy.

A Little History

Hetch Hetchy Valley Before Dam Construction (1908), by Isaiah West Taber.Hetch Hetchy Valley is in Yosemite National Park, and is a sister to the world-famous Yosemite Valley there. After the 1906 earthquake and fire, the City of San Francisco moved to secure an outside source of drinking water by damming the valley and creating a reservoir. This led to a major battle with the Sierra Club, led by John Muir. Eventually, an act of Congress  allowed the construction of the O’Shaughnessy Dam, which was completed in 1923. Muir was heartbroken at the flooding of what he considered to be a glorious national treasure.

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is now the largest of several that collect water from the Tuolumne River and provide it not only to San Francisco, but to many cities in San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Alameda Counties. The pristine water is treated but not filtered, and is considered to be the finest quality municipal water in the nation. The O'Shaughnessy Dam is also a source of hydroelectric power.

Restore Hetch Hetchy argues that Prop. F will push San Francisco to make much-needed improvements to its water usage policies, and will eventually restore the valley to its former glory. Some look forward to diverting a portion of the millions of tourists who visit Yosemite Valley every year into a nearby attraction.

Nothing New

In 1988, Secretary of the Interior Don Hodel embarked on a campaign to drain the reservoir and restore the valley, which was shot down by then-mayor Dianne Feinstein. Similarly, current SF mayor Ed Lee and other local politicians are calling Prop. F "insane," and vowing to defeat it. Many studies have been conducted on the issue, although they have not been comprehensive in their analysis.

Tough Decisions

The reality is that to pursue restoration of the valley, billions of dollars must be spent, and a commitment of decades will have to be undertaken. The question then remains if it is worth the effort. This is a political issue in which different faces of environmental usage compete. Water rights, clean hydroelectric power, wilderness restoration, national parks tourism….

However, unless you are a San Francisco resident, don't get too wrapped up in it. Although the decisions made about the reservoir will affect most San Mateo County residents, they will have no vote on this issue. This is something that many Silicon Valley business owners have taken major issue with, since the loss of such a clean water source could adversely affect their livelihood.

Whether or not you can or will vote on this issue… what do you think about it? Want to read more? Here are a variety of library materials on Hetch Hetchy.

Photo credit: Isaiah West Taber


Author Bio:

Chris Gray is an Extra Help Librarian. He is intrigued and overwhelmed by the complex considerations involved in this issue, and needs to sit down with a glass of water.


Great post. The infographic

Great post. The infographic on the mercury news site about the restored valley was pretty interesting. Thanks for posting this.

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