Appalachian Mountain Club

Boston, Massachussetts
December 15, 1908

Hearing held before the committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, December 16, 1908, on House Joint Resolution 184 - Part VIII.


Being advised that a hearing is to be granted tomorrow by your committee upon the petition of the city of San Francisco for a confirmation of a grant of flowage rights in certain valleys within the Yosemite National Park, said petition being represented by House Joint Resolution 184 dated May 12, 1908, I beg leave to herewith file with you a protest, on behalf of the Appalachian Mountain Club, against this grant and its confirmation.

Permit me to state that I have authority to thus speak on behalf of the club by virtue of a vote passed by our governing board on October 22, 1907. The matter was at that time before the Secretary of the Interior, and a formal protest was filed with him.

Allow me also to state that we are not speaking upon this subject without definite knowledge of the conditions both political and physical. Many of us have visited the Hetch Hetchy Valley, and in fact have traversed the entire length of the Tuolumne Canyon from Soda Springs meadows to Hetch Hetchy. Moreover, we have examined in detail all the printed evidence gathered upon the subject by the Hon. E. A. Hitchcock, who, as Secretary of the Interior, considered this petition in 1902; we have corresponded with the present Secretary of the Interior, with the Chief of the Forest Service, and with prominent citizens of San Francisco and other bay cities upon the matter. The writer has also had personal interviews on two or three occasions with two noted hydraulic engineers who had served as consulting authorities upon this subject of added water supply for San Francisco. We have, in short, taken the utmost pains to inform ourselves as to the merits of both sides of the case, and have kept posted constantly through all the proceedings.

It is our belief that Mr. Hitchcock took the only proper stand upon this petition. It was his endeavor to ascertain whether or no there was any public necessity which would justify him in surrendering to any community special rights which would tend to injure the natural beauties of the park. The act of October, 1890, requires the Secretary of the Interior to "provide for the preservation from injury of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders * * * and their retention in their natural condition."

It is true that the act gives him power to make grants such as that now under consideration, but only when it "is not incompatible with the public interest."

Mr. Hitchcock, after taking much testimony, decided that this was not the only reasonable source of water supply for the city, and that he was not justified, therefore, in granting flowage rights which would of necessity involve the mutilation of the natural wonders of the park.

Mr. Garfield, however, declined to rule upon the claim of the city that this was the only reasonable source of water supply, stating that in his judgment "it is sufficient that after careful and competent study the city officials insist that such is the case."

In this we feel that Mr. Garfield erred. What constitutes "careful and competent study?"

Two of the very best authorities on municipal water supply in the country were consulted by the opposing sides in this matter. For the city, Mr. Desmond Fitz Gerald, of Boston, made an examination and report. For the opposition, Mr. Frederick P. Stearns, also of this city, likewise made examination and report. Both engineers considered not only the present water supply but several proposed new supplies among others the Hetch Hetchy and Lake Eleanor watersheds. Mr. Fitz Gerald favored the Tuolumne source, while Mr. Stearns reported that the present supply with the extensions which can readily be made, is in all respects adequate for many years to come.

Was not the study of the opposition therefore equally "careful and competent?"

We would not array ourselves knowingly in opposition to granting any community a proper water supply, but we feel that here is a point of fundamental importance which should be proved beyond peradventure before the Hetch Hetchy grant is confirmed. Is the Tuolumne supply to only reasonable one for San Francisco.

The mere assertion of either side that it is or that it is not, however positively made, should not be accepted as conclusive evidence. It is our hope that your committee will avail itself of the personal testimony of the two engineers named above.

We believe that you will agree with us that the resources of our national parks should not be carelessly opened to exploitation and that you will also appreciate the importance of conserving such notable scenery as these parks contain as national assets of value. Switzerland long ago appreciated the commercial and sanitary value of scenery and legislated for its conservation to her great and lasting profit. Our people are more and more coming to appreciate the value of their national scenic treasures. The Yosemite Park is year by year visited by increasing numbers. An examination of the recent reports of the superintendent of the park will show that the tide of travel has greatly increased there since the completion of the railroad to El Portal. The hotels in the main valley are already inadequate, and camping parties find it increasingly difficult to securities.

Hetch Hetchy Valley is admitted to be a natural wonder, but little inferior to the Yosemite proper, while the Tuolumne Canyon, through which flows and plunges the main river from the great mountain meadows at Soda Springs, is one of the big natural features of the Sierra and of the park.

The old Yosemite is soon to prove inadequate in every way to keep the throngs that will journey to those mountain regions. With better roads to Soda Springs and to Hetch Hetchy the present pressure upon Yosemite will be relieved. Civil engineers who are members of this club and who have recently traveled over the trails of the park, state that it would be a comparatively simple matter to thus open up those sections to the public. The public merely awaits the facilities. With a reservoir at Hetch Hetchy one of these great camping grounds will be extinguished, and the scenery which would attract the people thence will, in our opinion, be seriously marred. We are unable to agree with those who profess to think that a vast artificial lake, subject to heavy drafts by the water users and by evaporation in dry summers, with the attendant bare and slimy shores, will prove equally attractive to those who seek relaxation amid pleasant scenes.

It is even doubtful if the users of the water would long allow the camping upon those shores of hundreds of tourists and their animals, owing to the danger of the contamination of the supply. And will not the same hold true of the camping privilege in the Tuolumne Canyon and on the mountain meadows above? The tendency of water boards everywhere is to relieve the watersheds under their care of even a suspicion of a contaminating influence.

We regret that we are unable to be personally represented at the hearing, but we trust that this letter may be allowed to go in as a part of your record, and that your committee will take no hasty action upon the petition of the city.

Allen Chamberlain
Councillor of Exploration and Forestry