by Richard W. Amero
In 1864, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill that would require the State of California to preserve the natural scenery of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. In September 1890, the United States Congress created "reserved forest lands" on l,500 square miles of federally-owned land surrounding the state park. John W. Noble, Secretary of the Interior during President Benjamin Harrison's administration, made the decision to manage this area as a national park. (National Parks: The American Experience, Alfred Runte, 1979, 63) In 1906, California returned Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the United States. Hetch Hetchy Valley was included in the boundary of the 1890 reserve; however private parties held portions of the valley and Stanislaus National Forest to the east under patent The City and County of San Francisco acquired a number of these patents through purchase in 1908. While confusion exists over who holds title to land in Hetch Hetchy Valley now used by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Commission claims only that it had received U. S. Congressional authorization in 1913 to build reservoirs on federal land. (Position Paper Released by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, April 8, 2000; see http://www.ci.sf.ca.us/puc/html.hetch.htm) Today the City and County of San Francisco operate a reservoir and power plant on "federal land" in Hetch Hetchy Valley, subject to conditions imposed by the U.S. Congress.
Geologist Josiah Whitney, in 1858, described Hetch Hetchy as being about 3,800 feet above sea level and three miles long, east and west. It was separated into two parts by a spur of granite in the center. Both parts were joined by the Tuolumne River, fed by the melting snows of the Sierra Nevada, which flowed through the valley. The portion of the valley below the spur was an open meadow, a mile in length and from an eighth to a mile in width. The Hatchatchie, an edible grass, grew in the meadow and oak forest, canyon oak and ponderosa pines along its edge. The meadow terminated in a narrow canyon which forced the Tuolumne River to back up during Spring thaws and gave rise to a lake. The valley east of the spur was a mile and three-quarters long and from an eighth to a third of a mile wide on which grew trees and grasses. On the northern side of the valley, a perpendicular bluff rose 1,800 feet. In the Spring, a large stream fell at least 1,000 feet over this bluff. Opposite to this fall a rock rose 2,270 feet. (The Yosemite Book: A Description of the Yosemite Valley and the Adjacent Region of the Sierra Nevada and the Big Trees of California, J. D. Whitney, 1868, 98-99)
Despite its scenic grandeur, Hetch Hetchy attracted only a handful of visitors because it was too far from the line of tourist travel and lacked wagon road access. (Yosemite the Embattled Wilderness, 1990, Alfred Runte, 80)
To the City of San Francisco the steep rocky walls, narrow outlet and large storage capacity of Hetch Hetchy represented a chance to escape from the clutches of the Spring Valley water monopoly and to obtain an independent water supply and a source of cheap electric power.
Responding to the requests of James D. Phelan, mayor of San Francisco, the United States Congress in 1901 passed a Right of Way Act authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to grant rights of way through government reservations for water conduits "for domestic, public or other beneficial uses" provided the rights of way were "not incompatible with the public interest."
Phelan, in 1903, transferred his waters rights to Hetch Hetchy and Lake Eleanor, both within Yosemite National Park, to the City and County of San Francisco. On June 20 of the same year, Ethan A. Hitchcock, Secretary of the Interior in the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, claimed that the "natural curiosities or wonders" in Yosemite National Park should be maintained "in their natural condition' and denied San Francisco's application for reservoir rights at Hetch Hetchy and Lake Eleanor. (Our National Park Policy, John Ise, 1961, 86)
The inability of the Spring Valley Water Company to curb fires following the 1906 earthquake reinforced San Francisco's determination to find a dependable water supply. Following a rehearing of the city's application, President Roosevelt's second Secretary of the Interior, James R. Garfield, on May 11, 1908, granted San Francisco reservoir sites and rights of way at Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy, stipulating, however, that Lake Eleanor, a few miles north of the valley, should be dammed first. Before acquiring the grants and rights of way, San Francisco would have to exercise its options to buy privately owned land on the floor of Hetch Hetchy Valley , which aggregated to approximately 720 acres and other lands within and outside the national park to exchange with the federal government for portions of Hetch Hetchy Valley and Lake Eleanor held in the public domain. (Communication from J. M., Deputy City Attorney, San Francisco, June 26, 2000 and "San Francisco and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, S2575, Hearing Before the Committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, December 16, 1908)
Rationalizing his decision to give away National Park land, Garfield said Hetch Hetchy was not unique, a lake would be even more beautiful than its meadow floor and the hydroelectric power generated could eventually pay for the costs of construction. ("Reports on the Water Supply of San Francisco, California, 1900 to 1908, Inclusive," San Francisco Board of Supervisors, 1908, 219-220) Garfield's decision and the President's endorsement were influenced by Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester in the Department of Agriculture, and a life-long advocate of the concept of "conservation through use," which sounds like an oxymoron but meant the management and replacement of natural resources to satisfy demands for their use while ensuring --- or attempting to ensure --- their continuance. (The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and His Legacy, Stephen Fox, 1981, 139-43)
Though Garfield had approved San Francisco's building of dams, future Secretaries of the Interior could reverse his decision and final authorization would have to come from the United States Congress. The Spring Valley Water Company, land owners in the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts, farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, and Sierra Club members opposed building the dams. It was the Sierra Club, under John Muir's leadership, that attracted the most attention. On November 12, 1908, by a vote of 7 to 1, San Francisco citizens approved the issuance of $600,000 in bonds to purchase lands and water rights around Hetch Hetchy and Lake Eleanor for dams, reservoirs and aqueduct lines. A voter-approved $45,000,000 bond issue in 1910 financed final surveys and initial costs of railroad, dam and tunnel construction but only after bonds were sold to assure funds! (Hetch Hetchy and Its Dam Railroad, 1990, Ted Wurm)
Secretaries of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger and Walter Fisher, during President William Howard Taft's administration, opposed construction of reservoirs in Hetch Hetchy Valley, preferring instead construction of reservoirs at Lake Eleanor and Cherry Valley. Unlike Garfield, Ballinger and Pinchot had disagreed over conservation policies, which may have been a factor in the Secretary's opposition to Hetch Hetchy development and in Taft's dismissal of Pinchot from his office. (Our National Park Policy, 1961, John Ise, 90) Meanwhile, opponents and proponents of the dams challenged one another at Congressional hearings. To keep proponents at bay, John Muir, in a pamphlet in 1909, fired off his famous salvo: "These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. . . . Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water tanks, the peoples' cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man." ("The Yosemite," 1912, John Muir, Chapter 16, 261-262)
In a less impassioned manner, John R. Freeman, president of the American Society of Engineers, on October 17, 1912, issued plans for a water system that would ultimately deliver 400 million gallons per day. William E. Colby, secretary of the Sierra Club, responded: "Hetch Hetchy is the only other valley in the Park that ranks with Yosemite in point of availability for hotel sites; it is the only one comparable to Yosemite for the sublimity of its scenery. It is the indispensable entrance and exit to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, next to the Canyon of the Colorado, the most wonderful gorge in America." (The Battle for Yosemite,: John Muir and the Sierra Club, Holway R. Jones, 1965, 144) Colby’s liking for hotel sites was considered peculiar at the time for even then Yosemite Valley was showing the effects of commercial exploitation!
In support of Freeman's plans, the United States Advisory Board of Army Engineers, on February 19, 1913, reported to Secretary of the Interior Fisher: "The determining factor (in choosing sources of supply) is principally one of cost. The project proposed by San Francisco is about $20 million cheaper than any other feasible project for furnishing an adequate supply." The Board also stated that Hetch Hetchy and Lake Eleanor afforded ampler quantity and better quality of water and more hydroelectric power than sites along the Sacramento, Consumnes and Mokelumne Rivers. ("Hetch Hetchy Valley; Report to the Secretary of the Interior on Investigations Relative to Sources of Water Supply for San Francisco and the Bay Communities, Washington, D.C., 1913, U.S. Advisory Board of Army Engineers, 50.)
On March 2, 1913, Woodrow Wilson became President of the United States. He appointed Franklin K. Lane, former City Attorney of San Francisco, to be Secretary of the Interior. Recognizing a conflict of interest, Franklin recommended that the U.S. Congress take up San Francisco’s application. (Communication from J. M., Deputy City Attorney, San Francisco, June 19, 2000) On September 3, the House of Representatives passed HR7207, a bill submitted by John R. Raker of Manteca, California, 183 to 43 authorizing the use of Hetch Hetchy and Lake Eleanor as water sources for the City and County of San Francisco. The Senate, on December 2, approved Raker's bill, 43 to 25, and on December 19, President Wilson signed it.
The Hetch Hetchy bill was not an outright gift of rights-of-way and the use of public lands as it obligated San Francisco to purchase valid private claims within and outside the national park when necessary for construction of its water and power systems; to build scenic roads and trails in the park and to donate them to the United States; to maintain sanitary conditions around the reservoirs and in watershed areas; to provide a continuous flow up to 1,700,000 acre feet annually to the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts in order to satisfy prior Districts' water rights, to sell electric power to the Districts at cost; to complete the dam at Hetch Hetchy without delay; to develop electric power for municipal and commercial use; to divert beyond the San Joaquin Valley only the amounts of water needed to meet the non-agricultural needs of San Francisco and other Bay Area cities which could not be supplied from sources near San Francisco; to refrain from giving or selling Hetch Hetchy water to private persons or companies for resale; and to pay an annual amount to the Secretary of the Interior beginning at $15,000 and rising to $30,000 after twenty years. In 1995 the U.S. Congress decided to increase the annual fee to an amount comparable to that paid by other dam/reservoir facilities operating in national parks and/or federally-owned lands. ( San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 1995 and Telephone Conversation with J. M., Deputy City Attorney, San Francisco, June 19, 2000))
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission conformed to most of the restrictions except for the construction of scenic roads and trails and the selling of Hetch Hetchy power to private companies for resale. In the summer of 1932, San Francisco gave the National Park Service $1.25 million, which sum was considered equivalent to what it would have cost to build the mandated roads and trails. Curiously, the money was used to build roads in other parts of the park. ("In Harmony with the Landscape: Yosemite's Built Environment, 1913-1940," Robert C. Pavlik, in Yosemite and Sequoia, A Century of California National Parks, 1993, University of California Press, 106) The dispute with the City over what routes were covered by the Raker Act persisted through 1955 at which time the Ninth Circuit Federal Court ruled in favor of the Park Service. (Telephone Conversation with J. M., Deputy City Attorney, San Francisco, June 19, 2000)
In defiance of a provision of the Raker Bill specifying that any power generated by Hetch Hetchy would be sold only to public agencies, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in 1925, granted Pacific Gas & Electric Company, a private utility, a contract to distribute Hetch Hetchy power from a Pacific Gas & Electric Newark Substation at the southern tip of San Francisco Bay.. According to a letter from Leo T. Bauer, engineer for the Hetch Hetchy Water & Power Company, October 15, 1987, the Hetch Hetchy Company no longer sells power to Pacific Gas & Electric Company. Be this as it may, a release from Hetch Hetchy Water & Power, April 8, 2000, claimed a "Resource Management Group" manages "HHWP's wholesale power supply, transmission and distribution contracts, including those with PG&E, the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts, and the Western System Power."
The reason for the apparent discrepancy between these two statements is that while Hetch Hetchy Water & Power has not sold electricity directly to Pacific Gas & Electric since 1945, the date Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes terminated the sale, it must pay this privately owned utility millions of dollars a year to deliver its electric power from Newark over lines it does not own. (Our National Park Policy, 1961, John Ise, 95) As a result of this additional charge San Franciscans pay top dollar for electricity from Pacific Gas & Electric while, at the same time, the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System sells its power at cost to the Modesto and Turlock Districts and to San Francisco city enterprises. (San Francisco Chronicle, December 15, 1987, A-5) Unlike their action in regards to the Spring Valley Water Company, voters of San Francisco have consistently turned down measures to purchase Pacific Gas & Electric power generation and distribution systems in San Francisco.
Lake Eleanor Dam, the first major dam of the Hetch Hetchy system, was erected in 1917 and put into service in the Spring of 1918. The 70-feet high, 1,260 feet long dam was projected to hold 27,000 acre feet of water, which is its year 2000 capacity. Construction of O'Shaughnessy Dam at Hetch Hetchy, named after its chief engineer Michael M. O'Shaughnessy, began in 1915 and ended in 1923. The dam cost $12,600,000. It was 605 feet across. To complete the dam some 398,000 cubic yards of concrete were poured and over six million board feet of lumber from the park were cut. The stream bed was excavated to bedrock and cliffs blasted to obtain aggregate or workable grades. The dam rose 226-1/2 feet above the original stream bed and 344-1/2 feet from the bottom of the foundation. It held 206,000 acre feet of water in 1923.
Water from the six-mile long, 1,972 acre Hetch Hetchy reservoir behind the O'Shaughnessy Dam started flowing into San Francisco in 1934 through over 47 miles of pressure pipe and 64 miles of tunnel, including a 29-mile tunnel through the Coast Range. As the descent was all downgrade, no pumping was necessary at any point along the approximately 150-mile aqueduct. The aqueduct terminated at Crystal Springs Dam, thirteen miles south of San Francisco, which San Francisco acquired from the Spring Valley Water Company in 1930 as part of a $41,000,000 purchase of water rights, storage facilities and distribution systems and which still impounds 22.6 billion gallons of water (69,300 acre feet). The cost of development of the entire Hetch Hetchy system in 1934 had reached about $100,000,000. Part of this cost was covered by the sale of power from the Moccasin Powerhouse, built in 1925, to the west and about 35 miles downstream from the O'Shaughnessy Dam.
Between 1935 and 1938, six hundred maintenance workers, hired under provisions of the State Emergency Relief Act, helped to raise O'Shaughnessy Dam to 430 feet above the original stream bed and to expand it to a crest length of 900 feet. The enlarged reservoir required an additional 276,000 cubic yards of concrete and provided for storage of 360,000 acre feet or 117.3 billion gallons. Between 1950 and 1956 a 330 feet high, 2,600 feet long, 270,000 acre feet reservoir costing $13 million, with $9 million coming from the Federal Government, was added to the system at Lake Lloyd in Cherry Valley, Tuolumne County, to divert an overflow from Lake Eleanor of 27,000 acre feet or 8,799 billion gallons, to prevent flood damage along the lower Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers, and to meet Raker Act quotas to the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts.
The Dion Holm Powerhouse, six miles downstream from the Cherry Valley Dam, and the Kirkwood Powerhouse, eleven miles downstream from O'Shaughnessy Dam, were completed in 1960 and 1967 respectively. While construction of the powerhouses and power tunnels leading to them had been envisoned in the 1940s, San Francisco voters approved a $54 million bond issue to build them in November 1955 to forestall an attempt by Tuolumne County speculators to build their own hydroelectric and reservoir facilities on a Tuolumne River site that had been reserved to San Francisco by the 1913 Raker Act. ("Hetch Hetchy Reversed: A Rural-Urban Struggle for Power," Stephen P. Sayles, California History, Vol. 54, Fall 1985, 254-263) A new Moccasin Powerhouse went up in 1968. A control room in the Moccasin Powerhouse operates the three power plants. A "History of the Municipal Water Department and Hetch Hetchy System," published by the San Francisco Water & Power Company in 1984, indicated that a quarter of the over two billion kilowatts of electricity generated a year went to San Francisco's municipal needs, including the Municipal Railway and street lighting, and the balance was sold to central California irrigation districts and industrial customers.
A 2,000,000 acre feet (651.8 billion gallons) Don Pedro Reservoir that replaced the old Don Pedro Reservoir, 290,000 acre feet (94.5 billion gallons) in 1971 necessitated the flooding of the town of Jacksonville in Tuolumne County. The new reservoir, with a 165-mile long shoreline, is fed from the Tuolumne River, including releases and spills from upstream reservoirs. Following completion of the New Don Pedro Reservoir, flood control responsibilities were transferred to the new reservoir, freeing upstream reservoirs of flood control obligations. Water stored and power generated at New Don Pedro is reserved for Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts. This reserved Districts' allotment allows the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to regulate the flow of water in its own aqueducts to assure continuous power generation and to meet the needs of San Francisco and the other 30 Bay Area communities and districts that have contracted to buy water. As the Don Pedro Dam is managed by the Irrigation Districts, it is not part of the Hetch Hetchy system, though the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, in consideration of the $45 million it paid toward the Dam's $100 million construction, retains rights to store 570,000 acre feet of water. This water is used to meet the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation District's water right entitlements in dry years. As the District's water rights are senior to San Francisco's, they are entitled in dry years to practically the entire flow of the Tuolumne. (What this does to San Francisco’s carryover storage during back-to-back dry years can be imagined!)
In 1987, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission supplied about two million people with water for domestic and municipal use, of whom 728,921, lived in the City of San Francisco, the rest (about 1.6 million) in 29 suburban water districts in San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara Counties. The Hetch Hetchy Water System was designed to produce an optimum 400 million gallons per day (1,227 acre feet) or 146 billion gallons a year (447,999 acre feet). Under terms of the Raker Act, production from Calaveras Dam (96,850 acre feet), San Antonio Reservoir (50,500 acre feet), Lake Merced Reservoir (7,872 acre feet) and other local sources must be used before water from water from the Tuolumne can be diverted. In addition the San Francisco Water Department has storage rights to 570,000 acre feet in the Don Pedro Reservoir.
Although the storage capacity of the Hetch Hetchy System is 659,600 acre feet and local storage in the Bay Area is 238,700 acre feet, these maximum but fluctuating totals are not sufficient to meet the San Francisco Water Department’s needs. For the year 2000 approximately 260 million gallons of water per day or 798 acre feet are needed to meet the needs of the City of San Francisco and of wholesale suburban water customers in the Peninsula and East Bay while the "safe yield" during periods of drought is about 239 million gallons or 733 acre feet per day. Even this "yield" would be affected by escalating usage and maintenance problems requiring the repair and temporary closure of facilities. During periods of scarcity, communities dependent on Hetch Hetchy water have had to conserve water and talk of expanding the system, of finding new sources of water, of controlling population growth and of increasing the cost of water increase. (San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 1987, 1, 16)
The probable consequences of a major earthquake, fire or flood on the in-part 87-year old Hetch Hetch Water and Power System have alarmed State of California auditors and San Francisco city officials. Repairs to deteriorating facilities have been estimated at $3.5 billion. (San Francisco Examiner, January 22, 2000; San Francisco Chronicle, February 18, 2000) This high cost and the prospect of catastrophe have provoked a number of solutions from raising water rates and issuing bonds to replacing the San Francisco-controlled Public Utilities Commission with a Joint Powers Authority composed of representatives from San Francisco and the 29 cities and water districts that buy Hetch Hetchy water for resale to residents and business customers. (San Francisco Chronicle, January 15, 2000, Mark Simon)
After being informed of the loss of Hetch Hetchy Valley, John Muir wrote to his friend Vernon Kellogg at Stanford University: "The destruction of the charming groves and gardens goes to my heart. But in spite of Satan & Company some sort of compensation may surely come out of this dark damn-dam damnation." ("Colby Papers," Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; Muir, Martinez to Kellogg, Palo Alto, December 27, 1913)
Since 1916 --- the year the National Park Service was established as a separate branch of the Department of the Interior --- Park Service resistance has made it difficult for Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps engineers to place dams and reservoirs in national wilderness areas. Proof of this can be seen in successful campaigns that Park Service employees and conservationists have waged to keep dams out of Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Glacier National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument. A federal law passed in 1988 (Code Section 16 USC 79-1), designed to prevent the expansion of Hetch Hetchy and Lake Eleanor in Yosemite National Park, prohibits the expansion of reservoirs in national parks without further congressional authorization. (Telephone conversation with J. M., Deputy City Attorney, San Francisco, June 19, 2000)
Whether another Hetch Hetchy development can be implemented at Hetch Hetchy or elsewhere is an open question. Its development in 1915-23 as a water reservoir was inevitable because San Francisco, like Los Angeles, had an expanding population. Los Angeles solved its water problem by getting water from Owen's Valley in ways that were more dishonest and destructive of the environment and of established agricultural communities than those pursued by San Francisco. (Water and Power: The Conflict Over Los Angeles' Water Supply in the Owens Valley, 1982, William L. Kahrl)
Talk by Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel in 1987-88 of doing away with the O'Shaughnessy Dam, of restoring Hetch Hetchy to a natural state, and of constructing an alternate dam at Auburn on the American River was ridiculous. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the City would have lost money and water in the process of replacement (including $35 million plus from power sales yearly that goes into the general fund) and would have been left with an uncertain and an inferior product. (San Francisco Chronicle, August 7, 1987, 1, 5) Until such times as it becomes economically feasible to make salt water potable and large-scale farms become more frugal in their use of water, more dams and diversionary systems are going to be built in California to meet the needs of arid and potentially arid sections of the State. (It should be noted that Marc Reisner has written a book, "Cadillac Desert," 1986, questioning the advisability of building future large-scale dams. His predictions of growing shortages of water, locally and world-wide, point to eras of acute distress with all their apocalyptic miseries.)
The construction of O'Shaughnessy Dam may not have been as overwhelming in its effect on the valley as prehistoric glaciers. Nevertheless, it damaged the valley. Bluffs have been blasted, hacked and hewed. A strip between high and low water marks shows unsightly scars and stains. Water hides slag and a build-up of silt and debris that would have been dispersed downstream if the dam were not there. These signs of devastation are ineffaceable. Even if the dam were to be removed, who would remove the 674,000 cubic yards of concrete and the 760 tons of steel used in its construction?
It is in the interest of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to maintain the integrity of the watersheds in the Sierra Nevada and in the San Francisco Bay area. In keeping lands around its reservoirs, lakes and watersheds free of development the Commission has promoted their preservation as open spaces of natural beauty. To accomplish this goal, the Commission contributes over $1.0 million each year for maintenance and improvement programs in Yosemite National Park, pays at least $3.5 million each year for environmental mitigations around the Tuolumne River, and is presently rebuilding a sewer system costing over $3 million to serve the Tuolumne Meadows area of the Park. (Position Paper Released by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, April 8, 2000; see http://www.ci.sf.ca.us/puc/html.hetch.htm)
Surviving scenic wonders and indigenous plant and wild life should be preserved to remind humans that they are only one of the species in the world. Even though Yosemite Valley is crowded with people and filled with smog, automobiles and concessions and Hetch Hetchy Valley less so, people still visit them to experience elemental and powerful forces which raise their drooping spirits. What is left of Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite Valleys should stay intact for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
June 30, 2000
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