Is It Quixotic To Work Towards Restoration of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park?
Many long have dreamed of the day that the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park would be drained of its reservoir and allowed to mirror the more-renowned Yosemite Valley. Those dreams are kept alive by the folks behind Restore Hetch Hetchy.
This non-profit organization sponsors various events throughout the year to keep enthusiasm behind the efforts to seek the demolition of the O'Shaughnessy Dam that holds back the Tuolumne River waters that fill Hetch Hetchy. There was a film festival in Los Angeles last month, one in Berkely, California earlier this month, and annual dinners, rallies and even marches throughout the year to garner support for the movement.
Back in August the folks at Restore Hetch Hetchy staged the second annual "Muir's March" to raise both awareness about restoration of the valley and dollars to help keep the dream alive. The 45-mile hike went from Hodgdon Meadows to the top of the O'Shaughnessy Dam and raised more than $30,000 for the organization.
"...we were walking the terrain of John Muir's inspiration and he was lending us his voice," Ekow Edzie wrote in the non-profit's fall Restoration Report. "Whether raising money in the months leading up to Muir's March or hailing fellow hikers along the trail we could be heard echoing the words of Muir himself: 'The Hetch Hetchy Valley is a grand landscape garden, one of Nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples.'
"The money raised by Muir's March is a crucial resource for Restore Hetch Hetchy's campaign to restore this lost American treasure," continued Mr. Edzie. "But it is the conversation and commitment of all of us that will ultimately create the grassroots thunder that will one day bring John Muir's 'grand landscape garden' back to life."
In recent years there have been a number of calls for the valley to be restored. One came five years ago from former Interior Secretary Don Hodel, who served under President Reagan. Mr. Hodel made a case for the draining of the reservoir in an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.
"The arguments for restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley are overwhelming. Ultimately, they will prevail," Mr. Hodel wrote. "San Francisco may, for a time, withstand the public and federal pressure and continue its unfair use of this part of Yosemite National Park, but sooner or later the hammer will fall."
Many of the questions that arise over the issue of dismantling the O'Shaughnessy Dam -- such as where would San Francisco get water and power from? -- are addressed on the Restore Hetch Hetchy website.
For instance, on the question of power generation:
San Francisco operates three medium-sized hydro-electric power plants in the Tuolumne River watershed - Kirkwood, Moccasin, and Holm. Draining the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir will reduce power generation at these by about 20% - an average of about 280 million kWh per year. This is a small part of the output of a standard combined-cycle power plant. It would result in a loss of approximately $10 million in annual power sales, but would not impact power delivery to San Francisco.
And on the task of actually restoring the valley after nearly a century under water:
As the reservoir is drained and the valley floor is exposed, aggressive replanting of native plants will take place as soon as the soil dries sufficiently. Revegetation will consist in planting a mixture of native trees and shrubs consisting of black oaks, white alder, black cottonwood, Douglas fir, dogwood, willow, azalea, manzanita, and ceanothus. The various species of trees and shrubs will be planted in areas where those species originally occurred, along with an understory of herbaceous plants.
Native bunch grasses and sedges would be collected and propagated before the reservoir is drained. These will be planted in meadows and oak woodlands as these habitats return following drainage. Complete restoration will involve planting approximately 100,000 trees and shrubs, dense planting of bunch grasses, and widespread seeding of native meadow and woodland species for ground cover.
It's not too early to block out time to participate in the 3rd Annual Muir March, which is scheduled for next July 17-23. Keep an eye on the Restore Hetch Hetchy website for details. Also, a restoration rally and festival is scheduled for July 23 at the O'Shaughnessy Dam.
In the meantime, check out this short video to see an artist's conception of how the valley might be restored.
And to see how the valley looked before it was flooded, check out the archival photos on this page.