time to redeem a historic mistake
-- John Muir
"Let me assure you that we have only begun to fight, and we are not going to rest until we have established the principle 'that our National parks
shall be held forever inviolate,' and until we have demonstrated to the satisfaction of every one, including yourself, that the American people stand for that principle. We are going to keep up the good fight without fear or favor, 'if it shall take until doomsday.'"
"Now is the time to complete a full analysis of the feasibility
and many benefits of bringing back the treasure of Hetch Hetchy Valley in
Yosemite. The restoration plan would not "lose" the
resource, or require "another clean source of water." The plan envisions
simply collecting and storing the very same water somewhere downslope from
Yosemite National Park in the high Sierra. Restoration would not only
re-open the magnificent Hetch Hetchy Valley, but help reduce the chronic overcrowding
that plagues its Yosemite Valley neighbor. A fitting tribute to John Muir
would be for us to find the wisdom and the will to restore the grandeur of
Hetch Hetchy Valley, in the early 21st century, for our families and all future
"The battle that John Muir led over damming Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite forged the fighting force of the Sierra Club. While the Club lost that fight, we went on to stop dams in Dinosaur National Monument and the Grand Canyon, led by our first Executive Director David Brower .... [But] Hetch Hetchy was not lost for all time and this second twin Yosemite Valley can be restored for future generations. Hetch Hetchy would never be dammed if it was proposed today, so why is it considered impractical to suggest that we undo the damage and restore Yosemite to its original grandeur?"
Mention Hetch Hetchy Valley to long-time Sierra Club members and their response is immediate: a heartfelt feeling of deep sadness for what has been lost, and a fervent hope that what has been lost can somehow be regained.
Probably no environmental issue symbolizes the Sierra Club's historical role in protecting the Earth's natural wonders like its efforts to preserve and restore Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park.
Following a fierce nationwide debate led by John Muir and Will Colby of the Sierra Club, the City of San Francisco was authorized by the U.S. Congress, in the Raker Act of 1913, to construct a dam and reservoir on the Tuolumne River in Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. The O'Shaughnessy Dam was completed in 1923 and, after the necessary pipelines and power houses were completed, San Francisco began using water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir for its water supply and electrical power generation.
John Muir, the first president of the Sierra Club and someone who is often called the "Father of our National Parks," spoke of Hetch Hetchy Valley as "a wonderfully exact counterpart" of Yosemite Valley, and therefore "one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples." Josiah D. Whitney, former State Geologist of California, stated that Hetch Hetchy Valley "is not on quite as grand a scale as [Yosemite] Valley; but if there were no Yosemite, the Hetch Hetchy would be fairly entitled to a world-wide fame; and, in spite of the superior attractions of the Yosemite, a visit to its counterpart may be recommended, if it be only to see how curiously nature has repeated herself."
In 1987, following Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel's proposal to restore Hetch Hetchy Valley, the Sierra Club's Board of Directors reaffirmed its "historic and fundamental opposition to the damming of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park," and called upon "all interests to take an open minded, long view of this issue, and to study and assess alternatives to meeting their needs and concerns through alternative sources of water, power and revenues."
Hetch Hetchy Valley, in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolulmne River, should be restored to its natural condition in order to allow "one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples" to be available for public enjoyment, to be reintegrated into its natural ecological and biological systems, and to provide for scientific exploration.
In addition, Hetch Hetchy Valley should be restored in order to preserve the integrity and inviolate status of our National Parks. As a 1988 report prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation for the National Park Service states: "Such restoration would renew the national commitment to maintaining the integrity of the national park system and keep in perpetual conservation an irreplaceable and unique natural area."
Since 1999, more than 850 dams have been removed from U.S. rivers, and ecological restorations that once seemed pie-in-the-sky are looking increasingly probable. It is time to move restoring Hetch Hetchy up the list of dams where the ecological value of restoration outweights its benefits.
In a letter and accompanying technical response to the Bureau of Reclamation's 1988 report, the Sierra Club stated it favors options for Hetch Hetchy's restoration "that make fullest use of already developed [water] supplies and efficient management practices in the Tuolumne watershed, before additional supplies are developed." The Siera Club supports finding a "win-win" technical/engineering solutions for restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley and satisfying the water and power concerns of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Together, we can, as John Muir said, "do something to make the mountains glad."
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