Reader Participation Day: Should The Hetch Hetchy Valley In Yosemite National Park Be Drained And Restored?

Do you think the Hetch Hetchy Valley of Yosemite National Park should be drained of its reservoir and restored?

Should the Hetch Hetchy Valley of Yosemite National Park be drained of its reservoir and restored?

On its face, that's a pretty easy question to answer. Of course! No landscape as exquisite as that within Hetch Hetchy that lies within a national park should be flooded.

Here's part of what John Muir had to say in his fight against the O'Shaughnessy Dam that created the reservoir:

Hetch Hetchy Valley, far from being a plain, common, rock-bound meadow, as many who have not seen it seem to suppose, is a grand landscape garden, one of Nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples. As in Yosemite, the sublime rocks of its walls seem to glow with life, whether leaning back in repose or standing erect in thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to storms and calms alike, their brows in the sky, their feet set in the groves and gay flowery meadows, while birds, bees, and butterflies help the river and waterfalls to stir all the air into music—things frail and fleeting and types of permanence meeting here and blending, just as they do in Yosemite, to draw her lovers into close and confiding communion with her.

Sad to say, this most precious and sublime feature of the Yosemite National Park, one of the greatest of all our natural resources for the uplifting joy and peace and health of the people, is in danger of being dammed and made into a reservoir to help supply San Francisco with water and light, thus flooding it from wall to wall and burying its gardens and groves one or two hundred feet deep. ....

(You can read his entire screed here.)

Of course, the nitty gritty is in the details as they say. Perhaps the biggest detail (not to minimize the objections of some San Franciscoans who worry about their water source), is the sheer cost of draining and restoring the valley. Cost estimates have ranged anywhere from $1 billion to $10 billion.

Now, come November, San Francisco voters will get a chance to start a process that could result in the draining of the reservoir that now fills the Hetch Hetchy Valley. An initiative on the election ballot would, if passed:

* Require San Francisco to create a water conservation task force

* Require the task force to present a plan to voters for greater water conservation and restoration of Yosemite National Park

* Give voters approval power over any recommendations through a charter amendment that will appear on the November, 2016 ballot.

So, what say thee? If you lived in San Francisco, would you push to see the valley restored?


Simple question, easy answer: Yes.

Yes the removal of the dam would be difficult but it should be done. In Olympic they are already doing the same sort of thing.

I think it would be great to restore the Valley.

It should never have been dammed in the first place.

Absolutely Yes !! Of course, the cost (realistically about $2 billion) is a consideration, but my heavens we spill mor than that as a society on one non-performing B-52 stealth bomber. I addition to ultimately restoring a magnificent valley, we would also be effectively creating about 90 straight miles of free flowing river.

Whats a B-52 Stealth Bomber?

Reader participation is asked but you really dont want the hard hiting facts on why the dam should stay up, you just want to rally for the removal.

Then tell us Chief.

People, the State of California, as well as the entire country, is BROKE and is getting deeper in debt at the rate of $3million a minute. Where in the Hell do you think we are going to get the money to do this project? Plus, where will the replacement of the 260 million gallons of water per day, being provided to the people of the Bay Area by the Hech Hechy Water System, come from, can someone tell me that? What's done is done and the Hetch Hetchy Valley is never coming back. Even if the dam was taken down, it would take over 100 years or more for the area to ever recover to its former state and most of us will long become worm dirt by then. So, get over it and get on with your lives.

Without a doubt - yes!

Yes, it should be restored, but I'll be mildly surprised if I see it in my lifetime (I'm 48).

I support the ideal of this project and it's a shame that the O'Shaughnessy Dam was built in the first place. It would be great if this project could be completed in the future but there are so many arduous steps that will need to be overcome before the process of restoration even becomes a reality. As one commenter pointed out, the state of California is broke and if a suitable site is found to relocate this water resource, it probably would mean billions more to build out the necessary infrastructure. If proper measures could be put in place such as water conservation and a master plan to relocate the reservoir, the odds of restoring the valley are very low in the next century. Lastly, this is a process that should not be fast tracked because it has a large impact on a necessary resource for millions of people.

Like I said, I support this idea and it's easy to say "yes", but the ends to the means is not so simple.

To reply briefly to Hiker Bob: Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is not the source of San Francisco's drinking water. The Tuolumne River is. The river is not going to disappear if the reservoir does.

So the issue is not one of water, per se, but storage. There are others options that can be studied, such as increasing storage capacity in other reservoirs downstream. But we won't know if studies aren't done. (Some already have been.)

It's ironic that government of a city that prides itself on being "green" is opposed to even studying an issue.

Restore Hetch Hetchy!! This time has come. Not only does Prop F in San Francisco open the space for a real plan to restore this magnificant valley, but also pushes true water sustainiblity and recycling. Its a win win.

Check here for more info:


Improvements to the water (and hydropower) system will be needed first - though they are not as onerous as many would suggest. See EDF, UC Davis, RHH and other studies

Make Yosemite whole, undo the greatest insult to our national parks and provide a template for improved water management. For a bit of history and a bit of inspiration, see Harrison Ford tell the story in this film:

► 21:37► 21:37

Yes. Period.

In many ways, the creation of the National Park Service was the result of failures to protect the parks which had already been created. This was especially true in the case of John Muir's valiant, but failed effort to protect the Hetch Hechy valley, within Yosemite National Park. Yes, by all means, remove the dam, right the wrong and make a dramatic statement for protecting the sacred values contained within the national park idea.

Until the storage of that water can be replaced, the answer has to be no. California's population keeps growing, and we will need all the water we can get (even when counting on water conservation).

While I am sure that Hetch Hetchy was magnificent, I do not think that it should be restored. The cost in dollars would be enormous and most likely above any estimates that are given. The time for the valley to become once again a valley would take many, many years given the time it has spent underwater. Sometimes it is important to spend money above what you have and most will argue that this is one of those cases, but can we be guaranteed that the land has not been permanently destroyed under all that water?

Oh come on, don't blame it on population growth and immigration inducements as a cause for the need to continue subjugating the environment (or a reality based budget:)!

With some regulars on here invoking the "troll" adjective it's only fair to return the favor. Environmental Trolls I think is the term I'm searching for.

Alright "cheif Tenaya", you want the hard fact, here it is; there are TOO MANY PEOPLE. What are you doing using tenaya's name to disparage this campaign? The hard reality is that San Fransisco is full of arrogance and entitlement from people like you, who don't want to spare a few bucks to implement city-wide conservation measures, who live in a metropolis like SF who claims to be sooooo green and progressive but continues to maintain comfort while sucking up the life blood of the living land and pooring it down the drain. What do you think tenaya would care about more, a seething metropolis (which ironically will be slowly inundated by water in the not-so-distant future) or all the mighty rivers of the majestic Sierra Nevada, nearly every single one of which is dammed, imprisioned behind a wall of reinforced concrete, enslaved to the greedy and self centered people of "The City" and the ridiculous plethora of products they consume. Hiker Bob, you seem to love hiking, dont you want future generations to know that you had the foresight to think of THEIR life instead of just your own? Imagine small wide-eyed children hiking through a restored Hetch Hetchy Valley in 100 or even 200 years, and their guides telling them that none of this would have happened had not concerned and empassioned individuals like yourself, Bob, decided that this sacred place was more important than all that other beaurocratic junk and silicon microchips and military weaponry and plastic water bottles and everything else this state subsidizes. Get your heads on straight people, these are dark times and we must turn to the things that sustain us and NOT ABUSE THEM. The Tuolumne thanks you.

This blog has a filter and refuses to accept this Paiutes Truth, so I will have to figure out how to say it so in ways that wont offend, lol

California is a state in which achieving any major infrastructure project is difficult. It's because of a combination of severe environmental review requirements and the opposition of many in the state to anything that could facilitate population growth (although this is a pipe dream: the growth happens anyway, and life becomes more difficult for everyone when the infrastructure fails to keep pace).

What I've heard, but admittedly this is only a recollection, is that California has the same water capacity that it had when there were 16 million residents. The state now has something like 35 or 40 million.

Given these considerations, it would seem to be foolhardy to remove one pillar of the inadequate infrastructure that exists.

Also, if San Francisco were put in charge of replacing Hetch Hetchy, I think that would foretell serious trouble. The city is dysfunctional and poorly administered in many respects. It's hard to imagine it would do an adequate job using city government to locate and develop a new water supply.

Here's a comment from RangerDave that got snagged by the spam filter (we're working on that):

Yes, if I lived in San Francisco or anywhere else, (and I do live anywhere else) I would push to see it drained and restored, BUT (you knew that was coming, right?) not until money can be raised to pay for it.

And I'm not talking about government money. How 'bout a grassroots campaign to pay for it with private donations? Governments at all levels need to curb their spending until they can live within their means, meaning no deficit spending and all debts paid off. Then, if the citizens agree, put some money toward the project.

A restored Hetch Hetchy Valley would not happen in my lifetime but I would rather my grandchildren see that valley as John Muir saw it and not have them saddled with government debt from overspending at the same time. And even without the dam water would still be available from the river for San Francisco .

Until the storage of that water can be replaced, the answer has to be no. California's population keeps growing, and we will need all the water we can get (even when counting on water conservation).
The infrastructure to replace the water storage is already in place. It's called Lake Don Pedro. San Francisco already has rights to water storage there, and the lake itself has never been anywhere near full capacity. The excess capacity is several times larger than Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

The issue that San Francisco has is that it would be tougher to replace the hydroelectric generation that is regulated by a dam they control. They also wouldn't have "senior" rights to water storage, which would belong to the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts. All this would mean a tough negotiation if they were to gain equal rights to water storage. As it stands now, Turlock and Modesto have rights to drain down to meet their needs before San Francisco can tap from the lake.

In addition to that, the water they get from Hetch Hetchy requires almost no processing. All they add to it is chloramine. Water from another source would probably have to be treated like much of the water in California.

ypw: interesting perspective. Those water rights issues are intractable, especially in a dry state like ours.

I say strap 10 sticks of dynomite to the base of that dam and let her blow!!!