Research Paper

Katelyn LaRussa

Research Paper

May 17th, 2010

Professor Fitzgerald

The Restoration of Yosemite’s Twin Sister

Deep in the Yosemite national park, hidden from the beauty of Yosemite is the Hetch Hetchy valley.  Hetch Hetchy valley according to Jon Muir is, “ a wonderfully exact counterpart of the great Yosemite”.  The Hetch Hetchy valley is a glacial valley located in Yosemite National Park in California.  Now the valley is completely flooded by the O’Shaughnessy Dam and forms the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.  The Tuolumne River and the snow and rain run off fill up the reservoir. As early as 1882, the Hetch Hetchy valley had been considered a potential site for a reservoir.  In 1906 San Francisco was devastated by the earthquake and fire that destroyed much of their water supply and power.  San Francisco was then in search of an adequate water supply.  The San Franciscans got what they needed in 1913 when the Raker act was passed allowing a dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley to be built along with another dam at Lake Eleanor.   The O’Shaughnessy dam was finally completed in 1938 and was named after the chief engineer, Michael M. O’Shaughnessy.  In 1938 the dam stood 312 feet high, and the reservoir stretched over 8 miles long, as it still does today.  Many people are upset because this dam takes away the natural beauty of the valley and destroys the environment. Not only did the dam destroy the environment but it also allowed San Francisco to gain a rather high income from Hetch Hetchy.  The building of the O’Shaughnessy dam and creation of the Hetch Hethcy reservoir was unnecessary, and should have never taken place, by restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley it would eliminate the environmental issues regarding the reservoir and restore the natural beauty that was once taken away, while still providing water for the city of San Francisco.

The controversy today as I previously stated was that the O’Shaughnessy dam located in the Hetch Hetchy Valley is destroying the natural beauty of the Hetch Hetchy Valley and San Francisco is using the water and energy coming from Hetch Hetchy as a source of income and profit.  Author John Warfield Simpson states, “”The project would never be approved today, and it should not have been approved in 1913, even recognizing the complicated history and context of the time,” Simpson concludes. “O’Shaughnessy Dam and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir were a mistake. The dam should have never been built and should be restored to bring the valley back to its natural state.  Governor Schwarzenegger recently ordered the Department of Water Resources to examine possible scenarios for restoring Hetch Hetchy. The People who are for the dam remaining in the Hetch Hetchy Valley state that removing the dam would cost billions of dollars. The people for the dam also state that after two years after draining the valley, grasses would cover most of its floor within 10 years, clumps of cone-bearing trees and some oaks would take root.  Within 50 years, vegetative cover would be complete except for exposed rocky areas.  The people for the dam staying state a forest would grow, rather than a meadow being restored.  On the contrary the people who are for the restoration of the Hetch Hetchy Valley state that their mission is to return Hetch Hetchy Valley to its natural splendor while continuing to meet the water and supply needed of all communities that depend on the Tuolumne River.  According to, ” it is quite feasible to restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley, while preserving 95% of the existing water supply and 73% of the hydro-electric power currently generated by damming the Tuolumne River”.  There are some modifications that are relatively inexpensive that will help San Franciscans get their water from the same source.  These modifications consist of pumping the water from Cherry Creek, divert water from the Tuolumne river into the San Francisco water system downstream from Hetch Hetchy Valley with a simple diversion structure and a pumping station, enlarge Don Pedro Reservoir and Calaveras Reservoir, increase utilization of underground water supplies, implement water recycle programs, new filtration equipment from water from the Tuolumne River. According to, “A wide variety of options are available to San Francisco to replace the water lost due to the removal of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. First, by diverting water from Cherry Creek into the existing Mountain Tunnel, and by diverting water from the Tuolumne River below Hetch Hetchy into the existing Canyon Tunnel, most of the water now stored in Hetch Hetchy can be brought to the Bay Area. There would be a small shortfall in some dry years. The dry-year shortage can easily be made up by any one of the following options. Some could be combined if necessary. Raising Don Pedro Reservoir, located on the Tuolumne River near Sonora. All the water from Hetch Hetchy could be stored in Don Pedro if it were raised less than 30 feet. This would inundate about a mile of the Tuolumne Wild and Scenic River, but restore more than 8 miles of the river in Hetch Hetchy Valley. Supply water to San Francisco from the existing Don Pedro Reservoir, in conjunction with a program of coordinated use of groundwater by the irrigation districts (Modesto and Turlock), which also use water from the Tuolumne River.  Moderately increase water conservation and wastewater recycling programs in the Bay Area. San Francisco and other communities served by Hetch Hetchy water are far behind the rest of the state in recycling and conservation”. Instead of spending billions of dollars restoring the pipelines from Hetch Hetchy to San Francisco the city could spend the money on the modifications to restore Hetch Hetchy and in turn make everybody happy.

There are many proposed issues that stem from the restoration of the Hetch Hetchy Valley.  In 1987, President Reagan’s Interior Secretary Donald Hodel commissioned a study by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation engineers that described ways to replace water storage and electricity generation without the O’Shaughnessy Dam. There are many ways in which the dam can be taken down and the water and electricity still remain in use for the San Francisco bay area.  In 2003, UC Davis grad student Sarah Null and her advisor, Dr. Jay Lund, completed a study of ways to restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley and address the many issues of water storage and power concerns of various stakeholders with use of the Don Pedro Reservoir.  In September 2004, Environmental Defense released a study that shows how the Don Pedro Reservoir could be used to replace much of the storage lost at the removal of the O’Shaugnessy dam at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Additional storage at Calaveras Reservoir could replace the rest.  The entire program of dam removal, valley restoration, and water and power supply replacement is estimated to cost between $1-3 billion. This is not nearly as much as San Francisco was willing to spend on restoring the pipelines that run from Hetch Hetchy into the San Francisco water district. There are many possible public and private funding sources that could be used to restore the Hetch Hetchy valley. State bond acts; federal appropriations, and revenue from the entrance fees at Yosemite, could all be uses as a source of donations. Because Hetch Hetchy Valley is in Yosemite National Park, all Americans could be used as large donors because they live in California.   An example of how the money could be raised to restore the valley is just like how $500 million were donations from many individuals to restore the Statue of Liberty. With these funding sources, San Francisco water and power users would not have to pay more to restore the Valley than other California water and power users.  Since funding is needed, some Congressional action will be required and the government will have to pitch in.  Funding will also need to be produced by the state and individual groups like restoring Hetch Hetchy. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the voter need to be asked their opinion about the dam and they should be asked to approve the removal of the dam and a new installation of water replacement and power supplies.  Many people state that San Francisco would benefit from filtering its water supply and that as of now no filtering is occurring in the San Francisco water.  The lack of filtration increases the number of infectious giardia and organisms in the water supply.  These infectious strains are very threatening to the community and those with compromised immune systems.  Many major conservation groups support a study of dam removal, and support removing the dam if feasible water and power supply replacements can be found. These conservation groups include the National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club. Local Native Americans support a study of dam removal; they are particularly concerned that their ancient sites be protected once the dam is removed.

Many people question, what will happen to the dam once it is broken down and what will it be used for?  Restore Hetch Hetchy states the dam will be broken up on site, and moved by conveyor belt outside the park. Outside the park pieces will be crushed, and turned into useful commercial aggregate. Some of the pieces of the dam will be sold as souvenirs. Once the dam is broken

Those who question the removal of the dam are extremely worried about where they will get their energy and how would it would be replaced. A wide variety of energy replacement options are available. Each of these options would easily replace the missing energy. Energy conservation in the Bay Area could quickly save the lost power. If everybody in the Bay Area conserved energy these emergency replacement options would be much more practical. In addition, over 20 years, consumers would save more than twice the cost of the energy conservation program. An example of a new energy replacement programs is a low polluting natural gas combined cycle power plant, this would provide more than five times the amount of energy that needs to be replaced from O’Shaughnessy dam being broken down. Another example of how we could replace the lost energy would be solar photovoltaic cells and wind energy. Although wind energy is more costly than conserving energy it would a great way to replace the lost energy. Once the water diversion projects from Cherry Creek and the Tuolumne River are completed, it will still be necessary to replace about 500 million kilowatt hours of electricity once O’Shaughnessy Dam is removed. This is a less than two tenths of one percent (0.2%) of California’s electricity supply.  San Francisco will continue to get its water from the hard-working Tuolumne River. The only thing that would change is the points of diversion and where they store the water.

There are many things that can be done for you to help restore the valley as well.  I recommend visiting the Hetch Hetchy Valley and truly getting an understanding of this beautiful place that has been taken away from us because of the dam.  In lieu of visiting the Hetch Hetchy Valley you could sign the petition to restore the valley and join the campaign,

I have officially joined the campaign and signed the petition to restore the beautiful Hetch Hetchy valley.  It is extremely unnecessary for the dam to be in the beautiful valley of the Yosemite Valley.  I agree with John Muir when he states, he wanted the valley to remain untouched, as it was so beautiful.  The Hetch Hetchy dam needs to be taken down and the Valley must be restored.  While the restoration will increase the natural beauty of the Valley the San Franciscans would still have the ability to get their water and energy from Hetch Hetchy.


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