Restoring Hetch Hetchy

In another life, I wrote about California water policy. So it was with some nostalgia that I saw this LA Times story come across a local water policy email list:

The cost of dismantling the dam that created Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and restoring the glacial gorge that John Muir considered one of the national park’s scenic treasures could range from $3 billion to nearly $10 billion, according to a state report released Wednesday.

Both critics and supporters of the fiercely debated proposal to return the flooded valley to its natural state seized on the state Department of Water Resources report as good news.

Opponents in San Francisco, which relies on the reservoir for its crystal-clear water and its hydropower, said the lofty price estimates should kill the fanciful idea once and for all.

“This assessment should lay to rest the idea that draining the Bay Area’s main source of water warrants further study, particularly in a state that needs more water and more clean power, not less,” said Susan Leal, general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

But the group of environmentalists pushing to topple O’Shaughnessy Dam — the towering wall of concrete completed in 1923 that put Hetch Hetchy Valley under 300 feet of water — said the 62-page state report underscores that the project, though pricey, is feasible.

Back in the ’80s, when I was writing about this stuff, Reagan Administration Interior Secretary Don Hodel proposed removing O’Shaugnessy Dam and restoring the magnificent Hetch Hetchy Valley. It was wonderfully wacky, completely impractical, completely out of character for the Reaganites to side with the environmental left, and therefore a delightful story.

Nice to see it’s still completely impractical and yet won’t die.

One Comment

  1. The study is perhaps a little questionable. Bear in mind also that the quoted Leal is a political appointee who would be unable to debate the issue if caught out in the open without her staff.

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