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New report backs campaign to restore valley in Yosemite

By Terence Chea


October 10, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO - Of all the battles waged over natural resources in

California, perhaps none is bolder or more romantic than a campaign by

environmentalists to tear down a dam in Yosemite National Park that has

provided water and electricity to much of Northern California for 80 years.

A report by Environmental Defense is the latest attempt to sway public

opinion in favor of draining Hetch Hetchy Valley and restoring to nature

what conservationist John Muir called Yosemite Valley's little brother - a

"precious mountain temple" and "grand landscape garden" that lies 300 feet

under water.

The authors of the report, "Paradise Regained," argue water quality, supply

and storage, as well as power generation, could be maintained if the Hetch

Hetchy Valley, in the Sierra Nevada about 160 miles east of San Francisco,

were drained and restored.

The study, released last month, proposes a variety of alternative water and

power sources for the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley if the

O'Shaughnessy Dam were taken down.

The report comes as the Bay Area embarks on a $3.6 billion expansion and

retrofit of the Hetch Hetchy water system, which seismologists warn could

leave millions without drinking water if a major earthquake strikes.

"We have an amazing opportunity to return Yosemite's second crown jewel to

the American people," said Tom Graff, Environmental Defense's California

regional director. "It's not technically or institutionally simple, but we

think it can happen if federal, state and regional agencies cooperate."

The report was met with a mixture of curiosity, skepticism and downright

opposition from officials in the Bay Area and the Central Valley, which rely

on the Tuolumne River and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir for drinking water,

irrigation and hydropower.

They pointed out the daunting technical, financial and political obstacles

to revamping the system.

"The concept of tearing down Hetch Hetchy infrastructure and restoring that

valley might excite the imagination, but it needs a reality check," said

Kate Hora, a spokeswoman for the Modesto Irrigation District. The district

supplies water from the Tuolumne River to farmers and residents in the

Modesto area.

California's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, said she was

opposed to "the destruction of one of the largest sources of clean drinking

water in California."

"In a state that has faced repeated droughts and is desperate for water

sources, I believe this would be a terrible mistake," she said in a


The debate over Hetch Hetchy Reservoir has stirred passions since 1913, when

Congress passed the Raker Act, which authorized the damming of the Tuolumne

River despite fierce opposition from conservationists.

The Hetch Hetchy system provides some of the nation's highest-quality

drinking water to more than 2.4 million residents in San Francisco and its

fast-growing suburbs in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties.

The first serious look at restoring Hetch Hetchy came in the mid-1980s when

Interior Secretary Donald Hodel commissioned a study that concluded the

valley would return to life within a decade if the dam were taken down.

But the idea was shelved after it encountered intense opposition from

powerful water interests.

Over the past year, the campaign to restore Hetch Hetchy has gained momentum

with a University of California Davis study published on alternative water

sources, and a recent series of editorials in the Sacramento Bee advocating

the valley's restoration.

Environmental Defense decided to conduct a study after San Francisco

officials declined to do a joint study two years ago.

The report, written by researchers at Environmental Defense and three

consulting firms, concludes the Bay Area could receive a majority of its

drinking water and hydropower by using other reservoirs on the Tuolumne


In especially dry years, water supplies could be obtained by boosting Bay

Area storage capacity and water purchases from agricultural districts, as

well as storing water in underground reservoirs.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which manages the Hetch

Hetchy water and power system, released a statement saying it was

sympathetic with the study's goals, but urged caution.

"The report today paints a very optimistic and rosy picture of the minimal

impact on the Bay Area," SFPUC spokesman Tony Winnicker said. "The reality

is much more complicated. At what cost does it all happen? And who's going

to pay?"

Environmental Defense says its report is meant only as a starting point for

discussion. The group hopes federal, state and local agencies will agree to

a more comprehensive study that could put a price tag on the project.

"Imagine the opportunity to allow nature to re-create another place like

Yosemite Valley. Why not at least take a look?" said Ron Good, executive

director of Restore Hetch Hetchy. "It was done by humans. It can be undone

by humans."


· Registered
47 Posts
woohoo! man o man, cant wait to see Yosemite's little brother. so many rocks to climb on

· Registered
511 Posts
What shocked me is that Diane Feinstein is actually against tearing it down. That right there should be a big hint since she is normally extremely interested in closing things for off-road or any other use, and getting things back to Natural environment.

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961 Posts
When dams come down and the salmon can return to spawning in the siearras
then the forrests will come back to life.

In the whole scheme of things it's really overwhelming...if you just consider the the survival of the fittest in the salmonids original spawn routes and locations. Alot of the salmons problems are the long term effects of DAMS
hatcheries will never fix .....
..............Then think about the rotting fish and all the animals and life that depends and thrives on that..............Deer hunting will improve ,Stealhead fishing, animal viewing, god its perplexing...............MOST IMPORTANTLY FOR TTORA IS land closures won't even be an issue
because all the plants and animals will be thriving again. and the fucking idiots that make all the speculations and rules will be so happy: Bambi viewing and catching butterflys.. etc. etc. that whole words may dissappear from our vocabulary.
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