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Draining Hetch Hetchy


    Nestled comfortably, and a bit out of sight, in the president's proposed FY08 Park Service budget is a request for $7 million to go toward studies into the removal of the O'Shaughnessy Dam that long has inundated the Hetch Hetchy Valley of Yosemite National Park.
    The money, if approved, would be spent to "prepare environmental and economic studies of Hetch Hetchy dam removal and restoration."
    Of course, that's just a small contribution toward the entire cost of studying this issue. According to the California Department of Water Resources, it would cost $65 million to properly study the pros and cons of draining Hetch Hetchy. The $7 million from the Park Service would, if approved, "provide a preliminary analysis of the advantages of dam retention versus removal and restoration, with emphasis on the potential benefits of restoration."
    Though environmentalists long have lobbied for the dam's removal, long odds stand in the way of that ever happening, as the water behind the dam supplies San Francisco and many politicians there adamantly oppose the dam's removal.
    For more insight into this issue, check out this story in the San Francisco Chronicle.


The irony isn't lost on us Hetch Hetchy lovers that three attempts have been made in recent decades by politicians to study HH resotration and all three were Republicans: Ronald Reagan's Sec of Interior Donald Hodel, California Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger and now George Bush in his 2008 budget. And who is fighting the proposals the hardest? Democrats, led by Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. This really stumps me. Anyone who knows Yosemite knows that we sure could use that restored valley back. Not only to take the pressure off some of the overused areas of the park, but for the health of the wildlife and flora of the park. Some may not know that Hetch Hetchy was one of the finest places for the flourshing of huge, healthy black oaks - a tree the park service recognizes as pivotal in the health of the Yosemite ecosystem (ask any deer, bear or indigenous person). Restoring Hetch Hetchy is a win-win. Local economies will boom from the process and the additional tourism. The ecosystem will flourish including the restoration of prime migration routes. San Francisco and the Central Valley will still have an abundance of available water captured at Cherry Creek and San Pedro and power can be generated from sources already in place that don't destroy this beautiful sacred place. Hetch Hetchy does not belong to one city. It belongs to the nation. It's time we righted a terrible wrong and restore this valley to its rightful owners.

The scandal here is something that San Francisco could do right now to help Yosemite. That is, agree to pay a reasonable rent to the park. $30,000 per year is a paltry sum for drowning a significant portion of Yosemite. It's the same rent that has been paid for the past 70 years. San Francisco should pay the $8 million requested three years ago. Then that money could be used to study the Hetch Hetchy situation. And San Franciscans claim to be environmentalists. That's a laugh.

Maybe someone else knows, but during what season does San Francisco need water from Hetch Hetchy the most? My assumption is summer. Studies say that because of global warming, more Sierra winter precip will be liquid rather than frozen, which means less snow melting in the spring and summer, which means Hetch Hetchy might be dry during the summer anyway.

$7M to study? How about using those bucks for the actual restoration? This is crazy. It's like hiring an architect to design a re-roofing project before hiring the actual roofers to perform a job that hardly needs architectural services. Come on. We can do better than this. If Feinstein and Boxer are in the way, let's push them aside. The ghost of John Muir is watching over this one. Let's honor his life and work by restoring HH now.

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir isn't just used for water. It's also used to generate electricity. The entire operation could be moved downstream to other reservoirs that are already there. If an oil company were paying such a measly sum for drilling rights or ranchers were paying nothing to graze cattle on National Park lands, it would be a national, front page scandal. But the city of San Francisco paying just $30,000 for using a portion of Yosemite as a reservoir is almost unknown information. Los Angeles changed its water usage so that Mono Lake would not dry up. San Franciscans should be ashamed that they have done nothing to restore Hetch Hetchy and refuse to pay for their desecration of the park.

Barbara Boxer has not opposed Hetch Hetchy restoration efforts. After the Governor's report came out, she expressed openness to further restoration studies. Cal. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, and Cal. Assembly Members Lois Wolk (Davis) and Joe Canciamilla (Pittsburg), all Cal. Democrats, are strong supporters of restoration. Congr. George Miller (Richmond) has expressed openness to it. So there's no irony. There is bi-partisan support, with some officials from San Francisco (or with their roots in San Francisco) pushing back to preserve a parochial benefit. The real irony is that existing reservoirs owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission on the Tuolumne River could be used to replace the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir for water storage, with nearly no loss in storage except in very dry years. Eleanor and Cherry Reservoirs (which are located near or in Yosemite Park on a branch of the Tuolumne) have never been used for SF municipal water storage. Instead, SFPUC uses the water in those reservoirs for electricity and for meeting water contracts with downstream agricultural water districts. Those reservoirs could be tied into the SFPUC pipes. Another option would be to increase the size of the huge downstream dam at Don Pedro, a dam that SFPUC helped pay for and owns an interest in (though the agr. districts have the rights to the water stored there now). The agr. water districts will probably go along if their interests are preserved. In short, this would take some retooling and creativity, but what a win for the nation and our national parks.

Be careful when you assume that all HH lovers want this area restored. My first visit to Yosemite included a few days in the HH area after my arrival at YV. I couldn't wait to get out of the valley and HH was exactly what I needed. No crowds, no cars, no buses, and picturesque views in every direction. Much of those views were enhanced by the water that you wish to drain. You mention one of the reasons for restoring the valley is the economic benefit to the local communities as well as taking some of the "burden" off of other over used areas (YV?). You also talk of the health benefit of the floura and fauna. You really should think about some of those comments and the actual real world effects that will be realized if HH is drained and "restored".
I shudder at the thought of another YV! And that's exactly what will happen if it's drained. It appears that the so called "environmentalists" on this page are driven by economic reasons? Unless you are from the area, why do you care about the economic "boom" to the local communities? As much as I hate to see YV over-run with the virus that is human civilization, at least it's contained to one area. Let's keep it that way!

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