Hetch Hetchy Valley Haunts, and Nourishes, San Francisco

Voters in S.F. will be given an opportunity to right a perceived 100 year old environmental wrong next week when they cast ballots on whether to develop a multi-billion dollar plan to drain Hetch Hetchy Valley, the city’s pristine water source.

1 minute read

November 3, 2012, 9:00 AM PDT

By Erica Gutiérrez


"San Francisco prides itself on its environmental record," writes Bettina Boxall, but it does have one large skeleton in its closet dating back to the 1913 passage of the Raker Act, which allowed the city to turn picturesque Hetch Hetchy Valley into a 300-foot-deep reservoir. The reservoir supplies water to 2.6 million people throughout the Bay Area, and generates clean hydropower that runs San Francisco's cable cars and lights municipal buildings and city streets, reports Boxall.

The meausure at hand asks voters to give the city the go ahead in developing an $8 million plan to drain the Valley and look for solutions to plug the resulting water and hydropower gap. A subsequent vote on whether to carry out the plan would happen in 2016.

Opponents argue that it's senseless to spend billions of dollars to fix something that isn't broken. "Virtually the entire San Francisco political and business establishment is adamantly against the proposal," notes Boxall.

Proponents of the measure, including Spreck Rosekrans and Mike Marshall of Restore Hetch Hetchy, argue that San Francisco could make up the water deficit by adjusting operations of existing reservoirs and utilizing local water resources; a small price to pay to restore a valley that John Muir once called "one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples."

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