Drain Hetch Hetchy? Voters Say, No Dam Way

Written by Maggie Rose Ortins. Posted in Environment, News, Politics

Tagged: , , , ,

Published on November 08, 2012 with 8 Comments

Proposition F, which was rejected by San Francisco voters on Tuesday, would have allocated $8 million to evaluate the feasibility of dismantling the O’Shaughnessy Dam in Yosemite National Park and restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley to its natural pristine state.

By Maggie Ortins and Brian Rinker

November 8, 2012

Voters roundly rejected Proposition F, Tuesday, an initiative on the San Francisco ballot that would have allocated $8 million to study the impacts of dismantling the O’Shaughnessy Dam and draining the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, a valuable source of hydro-electric power and water for San Francisco and the Bay Area.

77.4 percent of voters rejected the measure that aimed to restore Hetch Hetchy to its natural pristine state and protect the valley with National Park status.

Proposition F generated much heated debate in the months leading up to Election Day with many, including the measure’s main sponsor, predicting it would fail.

“It probably won’t pass,” said Mark Marshall, executive director of Restore Hetch Hetchy. “The reason people are voting against it is because they do not understand it.”

Marshall said the measure’s opponents, which included the entire City bureaucracy, outspent his campaign 4-1.

“This is the first time San Franciscans are asked to think about water and the effects it has on Yosemite,” he said.

The California Department of Water estimated the cost to restore Hetch Hetchy Valley to be between $3 and $10 billion. The annual costs for the average ratepayer would increase by $709 to $2,777, totaling an increase of $21,300 to $83,000 over a 30-year period, according to a letter from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to the Department of Elections.

The Public Utilities Commission declined to comment for this article.

“Every leader of Congress and almost every group I can think of are opposed to it,” said Laura Tam, Sustainable Development Policy Director for San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.

“Draining the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir—a source of water for 2.6 million Californians—and restoring the valley would cost as much as $10 billion. On top of that staggering price tag, replacing the water supply is unrealistic when California already lacks infrastructure to provide enough water for its economy or environment. We should move past this debate and focus on real solutions to California’s water challenges,” wrote Senator Dianne Feinstein in an emailed statement.

The Tuolumne River was dammed 100 years ago in Hetch Hetchy Valley to create a reservoir of drinking water for residents of San Francisco and the Peninsula. Yosemite National Park was popularized largely by John Muir though his writings and photographs. Muir compared the features of Hetch Hetchy Valley as almost identical to the Yosemite Valley.

“I’ve seen Muir’s picture of the valley before it was a lake,” said Amanda Winner, 23. “It was beautiful.”

Winner, who voted for the measure, fell in love the area after a summer backpacking trip at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. She admits that costs to restore Hetch Hetchy may be too great, but said if there is any chance the valley could be restored anywhere close to the beauty it once was, she had to vote in favor it.

Wayne Miller, 53, saw Propostion F as a distraction, preferring to focus on issues more relevant to him.

“I say leave it alone. I am voting for propositions that directly affect my neighborhood and kids,” Miller said.

Maggie Rose Ortins

Maggie Rose Ortins

Maggie Rose Ortins is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. She is a student at San Francisco State University.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jwaian James Waian

    San Francisco’s dirty little secret is not so secret anymore. All Californians need to vote on this. California voters say “let us vote!” Bring on the statewide initiative! All of those San Francisco Prius drivers who just voted to keep a dam in a national park are just a big hypocritical joke along with their leader, Senator Feinstein.

  • withak30

    Maybe I’m misremembering, but wasn’t the Prop to fund yet another study? It wasn’t a proposal to actually do anything to the dam.

  • Charles M. Stephanski

    The Voters have said NO to the study of draining Hetch Hetchy. The ACTUAL draining , re-forestation , and development of this area would have taken MILLIONS MORE PUBLIC DOLLARS.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jwaian James Waian

      Just wait until we Americans raise San Francisco’s rent for prime National Park land. That may add MILLIONS MORE PUBLIC DOLLARS to the U.S. Treasury. As part of Yosemite National Park, Hetch Hetchy Valley belongs to all Americans. San Francisco might want to start planning for losing this reservoir. San Francisco already has 8 other water storage reservoirs, and the rights to use another that they don’t even use!

      • Richmondman

        I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/covert.adrian Adrian Covert

        None of what you say is true.

  • urbannudism

    I voted for the measure.

    I have read CADILLAC DESERT by Marc Reisner, an essential work for anyone interested in the history of Western US water policy and a great page turner.  I know of the absurdities of Northern California water usage like little wastewater recycling, and growing rice and cotton on basically irrigated desert land.  However, I never got an education on what this measure who hoping to accomplish and at what price they were hoping to bring it in.  Wasted effort on some possibly good ideas.

  • http://openid.aol.com/babewitch BWit

    This article could use a bit of editorial work, as it is unclear what the point of the article is.  We know that Prop F failed.  A little more research and a clearer explanation of the pros and cons of the Prop, as well as possible reasons for the lack of clarity to voters, is in order, based on quotes the writer chose to include.