Hetch Hetchy Valley, in Yosemite National Park in California, is an area of majestic beauty. Yosemite, after all, is a World Heritage site and its importance to the environment is immeasurable. In 1923, the O’Shaughnessy Dam was completed along the western end of the valley to restrict the flow of the Tuolumne River, creating Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
Management of the Hetch Hetchy Valley has been the subject of much controversy. In particular, environmental groups, including Rock the Earth, support removing the dam along the Tuolumne River to restore the river’s natural flow. In fact, in 2006, at the suggestion of Northern California bluegrass band Hot Buttered Rum, Rock the Earth challenged the continued Wild & Scenic designation of the Tuolumne River in the absence of a formal review of the dam’s impact on that designation.
The removal of the O’Shaughnessy Dam would create a more natural environment where plant and animal life can thrive throughout the Valley and, in essence, double the size of Yosemite. Environmental groups have tried numerous times to encourage the National Park Service to consider dam removal. In fact, numerous studies have been conducted that revealed the dam’s removal is feasible. Yet, the National Park Service (NPS) and City of San Francisco have not considered dam removal as a viable option.
On April 21, 2015, a group called Restore Hetch Hetchy filed a petition in the Superior Court in for the State of California in Tuolumne County. The petition states that the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir violates the water mandates in the California Constitution. The California Constitution requires that water diversion out of streams and rivers must be reasonable. The petition argues that there are other ways of diverting water from the Tuolumne River without interrupting its natural flow (which is currently disrupted by the dam).
The petition acknowledges that municipal water use is a reasonable use of the natural resource. However, Restore Hetch Hetchy maintains that that the method of diversion – namely using a dam – is more disruptive than beneficial and is therefore unreasonable.
The petition doesn’t ask for complete dam removal, rather it asks the court simply to mandate that the San Francisco Public Utility commission conduct an engineering and feasibility study that examines the outcomes of removing the dam and restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley.
RtE will continue to monitor the progress of this petition and take the opportunity to comment on new plans for the Valley when they arise. To learn more about RtE’s position on this issue, visit the Rock the Earth Hetch Hetchy Valley Project Page.