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.

The detailed studies by EDF, UC Davis, Restore Hetch Hetchy and others show that elimination of the reservoir in Yosemite National Park would result in a very small (4%) decrease in water delivered to SF and its wholesale customers. So, how would that slights shortage be made up? First, consider the fact that the majority of the water consumed in any urban setting does not need to meet drinking water quality standards. Outdoor irrigation, industrial cooling facilities, street washing, golf courses can all be served by using recycled water. And in fact virtually every community in the state has one or more water recycling facilities for those and other purposes. A total of over 700,000 acre feet of water (1 acre foot = 326,000 gallons) is currently being recycled in California.
You would think that San Francisco, which likes to think of itself as the bastion of environmentalism, would be a leader in water recycling. Think again and see --
That's a 2009 survey of water recyling facilities in California. Page 12 has the entry for SF. Zero, Zip, Nada. It's the height of arrogance for San Francisco to have its own little water storage facility in the crown jewel of our National Park system while other communities water their golf courses and parks with recycled water and SF uses pristine Tuolumne River water for irrigation purposes.
Lovers of our national park system can express their outrage with two phone calls -- SF Mayor Ed Lee (415-554-6141) and SFPUC General Mgr Ed Harrington (415-554-3155). Ask for two things: 1. a public hearing in San Francisco informing the public of the pros and cons of returning Hetchy Hetchy Valley to its rightful owners, the people of all of our country; 2. a commitment that SF will do exactly that if it is shown that SF can fulfill its water needs with a combination of engineering fixes to the Hetch Hetchy system and recycled water use in SF.

" There's no reason not to hold public hearings on this important topic."
lord no - we certainly wouldn't want to muddy the cituation with public opinion. Afterall there are only millions of people that may be affected but their opinion doesn't count.

A breath of fresh air you are Lelandg.

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

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

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

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?

"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.

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.

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.

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