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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.


 Hey John Muir was against that dam-- thats all the expert opinion I need !!!LOL

Actually Lee - I don't think we disagree on this one. At least not on the point of needing full public input.  Where we might disagree is on the outcome.  You appear to be fully committed to removal no matter the cost or impact.  I am open to removel IF the cost and impact doesn't place an undue burden on the people.
Amd Lee - I am always smiling.

I used the word millions in response to your use of the same word.  Probably back in 1913 it was probably more like "hundreds of thousands."  But the idea is the same.  There was tremendous public outcry throughout the United States as John Muir and others pushed to save the valley.

In the end, as is so often the case now, politicians made the decision for all of them.  That is the way it is supposed to be in a republic -- but no one can force us all to like or agree with the decisions they sometimes make.

All any of us can do is try to make sure our own feelings and opinions are heard and considered.  Too often is seems as though the "considered" part is left out or are considered only if the people pushing for consideration have big money behind them.  When that happens, it's wrong.

Now we've kind of beaten this horse severely.  What will we disagree about tomorrow?

Keep smiling, ec, and I'll do the same.

"My point is that there were millions of people who opposed the dam back then"

Lee - there weren't even millions of people that lived in the area at the time.  The population of San Fran was under 500K.  The opinions were certainly heard and not ignored but over powered by the opinions of others - particularly Congressmen that were elected by their constituents.
The key point here is that hearings and a full discussion are warranted. 
I have to admit I mis-read Owens post and thought he was advocating no hearings and just blow the dam.  While blowing the dam might be his goal - he in fact was not advocating doing it without discussion.  I think consideration of estimating the dam is warranted but the cost and who pays for it is clearly open to discussion.

Right, but after years of hearings and lobbying on both sides of the issue, Congress stepped in and overruled all objections with the Raker Act.  Even that act, which stipulated that no private profits would be derived from the dam, power generated by water from the flooded valley generated many dollars for PG&E in later years when it was not enforced.

My point is that there were millions of people who opposed the dam back then and as it turned out, their opinions were not counted.  Just as now some will have their opinions ignored.  There will always be winners and losers in anything like this.

Sometimes we have opportunities to correct past errors.  Maybe this is one of those times.  Two dams are being removed from Olympic National Park now.  Is that wrong?  Depends on which side you are on.  But in the end, shouldn't people on both sides of an issue have their opportunity to weigh in?

When one researches the history of the proposal to remove the dam, the story devolves into one of political intrigues on all sides.  Study up, think, make your own decision and then speak up -- whichever side you may be on.  Rather than demeaning people who don't agree with us, shouldn't we try to actually sit down and reason together?

As I suspected.  There were at least 10 years of discussion and lots of hearings on the topic.

Lee - if that were true - it wouldn't have been right then either.  Somehow, I doubt that was true.

There were millions of people whose opinions didn't count back in 1915 or whenever Hetch Hetchy was flooded.

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