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San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Denies Request For Hearing On Restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park


Draining the Hetch Hetchy Valley and restoring it would make Tueeulala Falls visible to more Yosemite visitors. Photo from state of California's 2006 study into restoring the valley.

A request by the Restore Hetch Hetchy organization that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission hold a public hearing on the question of restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park has been denied.

Anson Moran, president of the commission, rejected the group's request, saying it was the commission's responsibility to "protect this system that provides water to 2.5 million residents and businesses in the Bay Area."

Beneath the reservoir backed up by the O'Shaugnessy Dam that was finished in 1923, and raised by 85 more feet in 1938, are 360,000 acre-feet of water to meet the needs of San Francisco’s residents. Submerged by that water is a granite-lined canyon once graced by
feathery waterfalls and split by a placid river, the Tuolumne, running through its meadows and forests.

While Mr. Moran seems to imply that draining Hetch Hetchy would jeopardize San Francisco's water supply, officials for Restore Hetch Hetchy have maintained that's not true. Draining the reservoir -- whether to remove the dam itself is something Restore Hetch Hetchy officials haven't taking a firm stand on -- would not adversely affect San Francisco's thirst, Mike Marshall, the group's executive director, told the Traveler back in June.

"San Francisco’s water rights, and its source of water, is the Tuolumne River. Their water rights are tied to the Tuolumne River, which flows through the Hetch Hetchy Valley, and then on down into the San Joaquin River and then into the bay delta and the San Francisco Bay," he said at the time. "That’s not going to change, nobody’s arguing San Francisco’s water rights. What’s going to change is where we store the water. And the confusion derives from the fact that even though San Francisco has nine reservoirs where it stores its water, one of them, its largest  reservoir, is the Hetchy Hetchy Reservoir, and we have always called the system the 'Hetch Hetchy system.'

"So, (U.S.) Sen. (Dianne) Feinstein and many San Franciscans mistakenly believe that Hetch Hetchy is the source of San Francisco’s water, when in fact the Tuolumne River is the source. And we’re not talking about taking a drop of water away from the city, we’re simply saying store it outside of the national park."

While Mr. Moran described the proposal to drain Hetch Hetchy as "antithetical" to the commission's mission, the non-profit group replied that nothing in San Francisco's city charter "would preclude the SFPUC from restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley given that reasonable alternatives for water storage are available."

Multiple studies performed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the California Department of Water Resources, the University of California, Davis and the Environmental Defense Fund have determined that utilizing Hetch Hetchy Valley as a water storage facility is unnecessary, the group said Monday.

“We are deeply disappointed in the SFPUC’s response. The SFPUC’s mission includes environmental stewardship of the Tuolumne River watershed, yet it has never considered the adverse environmental impacts of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir to Yosemite National Park, nor to the nine miles of Tuolumne River buried beneath the reservoir,” said Mr. Marshall.

“We continue to believe that SFPUC’s mission mandates a public hearing on the issue. San Franciscans pride themselves on their 'green' reputation and we believe the City can and should become a better steward of the natural resources it controls,” he went on.  “To suggest that the City Charter prevent the SFPUC from even considering environmental improvements to the system is irresponsible and, in fact, ‘antithetical’ to the will of many San Franciscans.”

According to Restore Hetch Hetchy, a July 2010 poll of San Francisco voters performed by David Binder Research, Inc. found that 59 percent of voters supported restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley if there was no increase in water rates. If there would be an increase in water rates, the poll found the voters evenly split -- 42 percent to 43 percent, with a 4 percent margin of error, the group added.

Restore Hetch Hetchy plans to conduct a petition drive next year to move the question of draining Hetch Hetchy to the November 2012 ballot. To do so, the group must collect 47,000 signatures from registered San Francisco voters by next June.


Where can we sign the petition? I am so ready.

Kurt, It would be fascinating to restore Hetch Hetchy and could be like doubling the size of an overcrowded Park. It would be a long slow process that would have wide interest. I was curious as to the following quote above;  
"would preclude the SFPUC from restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley given that
reasonable alternatives for water storage are available."
What are the alternatives for their water storage? and who will it affect? I hope the 2012 vote will be successful.

David, the Restore Hetch Hetchy group points to better water conservation in general and improvements/enlargements to some of the other existing impoundments that catch the river.

You can find the details at this page.

Great link...thank you!

I've been to Hetch Hetchy. It's an interesting area, but I wouldn't think it would be a draw quite like Yosemite Valley. It would probably attract crowds similar to Tuolumne Meadows.

As a US citizen and as a former resident of San Francisco and Yosemite Valley, I highly support restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley.  Drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and store the water needed to service the city in other impoundments located further downstream along the Tuolumne River.  There's no reason not to hold public hearings on this important topic.  I hope to see Hetch Hetchy restored during my lifetime.

I don't see why only San Francisco voters get to have a say on Hetch Hetchy.  Would they be the only ones paying for removing the dam and storing the water in another reservoir?  Are they the only ones who would benefit from seeing a Hetch Hetchy as nature intended? 

While restoring the HH may be idealistic, here are several points to consider. Where will the funds come from to tear down the dam and the restoration? Where the funds come from to build an additional storage facility for the City because there will need to be additional storage? Whose land will be destoyed/inundated and what ecological damage would it do to possibly unnamed and unknown species and the enviroment.
It is always easy to spend someone else's money. If the RHH organization can came up with the funds by voluntary donations to it and by doing cake sales to fund the approximate 20 billion estimated cost that has been thrown out (which is probably low), then let the restoration begin.  I find it implausible that they think there will be no tax/water rate hike to fund this. The State of California and the U.S.  are both basically bankrupt so I ask again, put idealism aside for a while and look at realism.
I have been to the HH and would love to see it in its natural state again but I am being realistic and living in the real world.

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