Study: Drain Hetch Hetchy?
Yosemite National Park's Hetch Hetchy Valley as it appeared before and after its 1923 flooding. John Muir called the valley “another Yosemite,” and the feature is geologically similar to its southern cousin.
The state of California has agreed to study the possibility of draining and restoring Yosemite National Park's Hetch Hetchy reservoir, the project that Sierra Club founder John Muir fought his last battle against.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's resources secretary, Mike Chrisman, announced the decision in mid November. The move was requested by state Assembly members Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and Joe Canciamilla (D-Pittsburgh). The decision came less than two months after the group Environmental Defense released a study on possible alternatives for supplying the San Francisco Bay Area with water.
Since 1923, Hetch Hetchy reservoir, the body of water behind O'Shaughnessy Dam near Yosemite's northern border, has been the main water supply for San Francisco and environs.
Close to 2.4 million residents depend on the reservoir for their water.
This month's move is only a study, and significant hurdles would need to be overcome in securing alternate water sources.
“This is but one step on a long road, but I think it's a significant step,” Environmental Defense director Tom Graff told the Los Angeles Times. “The state administration has basically said this is worthy of study. We applaud them for agreeing to that and for trying to now herd the other stakeholders and people involved.”
Draining the reservoir would leave the valley with a 300-foot-tall bathtub ring that would likely last for centuries. A massive reforestation effort would be required on the valley floor.
John Muir worked vigorously to preserve the valley in his final years. He often called Hetch Hetchy “another Yosemite.”
“The floor of Yosemite is about 4,000 feet above the sea,” he wrote in 1912. “The Hetch -Hetchy floor about 3,700; the walls of both are of gray granite, rise abruptly out of the flowery grass and groves are sculptured in the same style, and in both every rock is a glacial monument.
“Dam Hetch-Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.”