Should the Hetch Hetchy Dam in Yosemite National Park be demolished? That’s a question that’s been asked almost since the concrete edifice went up in 1923.
Recently, former Interior Secretary Don Hodel said the time had come to remove the dam and restore the valley, which was a stunning, albeit miniature, version of Yosemite Valley.
According to the Sacramento Bee, the administration of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger next month is expected to release a preliminary study that delves into the question of whether the San Francisco Bay Area can obtain enough water from sources other than the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
This past Sunday the Bee editorialized about the issue, saying the time is ripe to thoroughly examine this issue. Here’s the bulk of the editorial:
Hetch Hetchy has been submerged since 1923 by a dam that supplies the San Francisco Bay Area. The looming question is whether the Bay Area can find enough water if Hetch Hetchy is drained and restored.
There is reason to think that the answer will be yes, at a cost greater than environmentalists would like, but much less than the numbers San Francisco officials have been throwing around. But at this point, the issue really isn't this preliminary finding. The issue is whether it will lead California to revisit big decisions made 90 years ago about one of its most beautiful places.
The question for the public is: What is the highest, best use of this magnificent valley? The answer can come only through a truly definitive study. And that can happen only with the cooperation of the Schwarzenegger and Bush administrations.
Count us among those whose gut tells them that historic change is in order. In a future California with perhaps 50 million people yearning for natural respites, Hetch Hetchy is more valuable as a meadow surrounded by stunning waterfalls and granite peaks than as a water tank.
Yes, there will be challenges about water supply. But society is getting cleverer in conserving, trading and recycling water. There are, however, only so many beautiful places. Hetch Hetchy, were it restored and managed appropriately, would be an addition unlike any other to the national park system.
Our gut (and the fact that this preliminary study was done at all) tells us that voices within the Schwarzenegger administration are receptive to a historic re-evaluation of Hetch Hetchy. And there are some significant question marks. New Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy once worked for Sen. Dianne "Hetch Hetchy is San Francisco's Birthright" Feinstein.
But in all, minds seem admirably open. So there is reason to hope that the governor will see the future of Hetch Hetchy as a discussion well worth having.
The federal Interior Department is harder to read. This idea is probably out of its comfort zone. But no one is asking Interior to blindly tear down a dam. What is needed is a small expenditure over a few years to answer some questions: What does it cost to drain the valley? Can this same water be stored elsewhere? What are the best ways to replace some hydropower and restore the valley? What value would the public place on another Yosemite valley?
The historic moment to answer these questions is fast approaching. We don't make light of the challenge. But our gut gives us hope.
You can stay abreast of this issue, and learn more about its background, by visiting the Restore Hetch Hetchy web site.