Restore Hetch Hetchy conjures corporate boogiemen

Hetch Hetchy Valley, it's beautiful, except for all that water, apparently.

The campaign for a ballot measure that seeks to create a plan for tearing down the O'Shaughnessy Dam – San Francisco's main source of clean water and power – and turning the Hetch Hetchy Valley into a tourist destination must be having a hard time collecting the 9,702 signatures it needs by July 9 because it is resorting to conjuring up unlikely boogiemen to win public sympathy.

Restore Hetch Hetchy just sent out a press release accusing opponents of the measure of preparing a “tobacco industry-style negative ad blitz” funded by venture capitalist Ron Conway and other corporate evildoers.

“Just like the tobacco industry’s big money confused so many people into opposing the Prop. 29 tobacco tax they initially supported, now we’re seeing corporate money flowing like a dirty river right into the coffers of what promises to be yet another nasty negative campaign,” said Mike Marshall, campaign director for the Yosemite Restoration Campaign, which his Restore Hetch Hetchy group is sponsoring.

It cites a statement made by the Bay Area Council – which they helpfully remind us includes “PG&E, Chevron, and Mitt Romney’s former company Bain & Co.” – that Conway has pledged $25,000 to the opposition campaign.

Where do I even begin to unravel this ridiculously hyperbolic and misleading appeal? Let's start with the fact this has nothing to do with Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Capitalists, or Big Utilities. It isn't corporations that are standing in the way of spending billions of dollars to tear down the dam and replace the lost power and water – it is just about every elected official in the region, from across the political spectrum, and any San Franciscan who has at least as much reason and sentimentality. As for PG&E, I'm sure the utility would just love to see San Francisco's main source of electricity torn down, which would only expand its monopolistic control of our energy system.

Frankly, the misleading release reeks of desperation, and when I asked campaign consultant Jon Golinger whether the campaign is in trouble, he responded, “We are certainly quite clear this is a David versus Goliath situation, or whatever analogy you want to make.”

Okay, how about a Fantasy versus Reality situation? Or a Past versus Present situation? Or San Franciscans versus Dan Lungren, the right wing member of Congress who has been pushing to remove the dam supposedly because he loves Yosemite Valley so much and wants to create another one (or, more likely, because he wants to tweak the San Francisco liberals and get us fighting among ourselves over something pointless and distracting).

I'm sorry, but I just can't get my head around the appeal of this idea, which the Sacramento Bee editorial writers actually won a Pulitzer Prize for conjuring up in 2004, certainly another sign of the modern decline in journalism standards. I get that legendary conservationist John Muir was right and this dam probably shouldn't have been built, and that it might be kinda cool to have another beautiful valley to hike in once the sludge dries up over a few decades.

But when we can't even find adequate funding for public transit, renewable energy sources, and the multitude of other things that really would help the environment – not to mention while we're heading into an era when water supplies in the Sierras could be depleted by climate change – do we really want to spend billions of dollars to fetishize one valley and destroy the engineering marvel that is one of the best and most energy-efficient sources of urban water in the country?

Or am I just shilling for Big Tobacco and Mitt Romney because that's how I see it?


the green credentials that you should be showing. That dam is an abortion and if it were anywhere else, you'd be screaming for it to be pulled down. But because you it's a SF public power thing, you have to appear to be supporting one of the biggest environmental disasters in US history.

Word - Bruce is gone, you can think instead of follow.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

Did you read what I wrote? My views have nothing to do with public power and everything to do with spending billions of dollars to destroy a source of clean water and power. It's too late for an abortion, this reservoir exists, whether or not it was a good idea in the first place. And to destroy it now and build a bunch of new dams downstream just seems crazy.

Posted by steven on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 11:10 am

Okay, let me start with a presumption: I think most enviros would agree that existing large hydro is a better energy source than fossil fuels and nuclear. Not as good as distributed solar, which is my holy grail, or even large-scale solar -- but better than burning coal, oil, or natural gas and certainly better than nukes.

And the reality right now is that tearing down the dam would significantly reduce the amount of electricity SF can generate from hydro. That would be replaced right now with fossil fuel power, since the city doesn't have nearly enough solar to make up the difference.

Ten, 15, 20 years from now, when nearly every home and business in the city has solar panels and PG&E is a bad memory, I'll be in line with my sledgehammer to tear the thing down. Not today.



Posted by tim on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

stream which would provide the power and water to replace that created in what, let me remind you, is a national park and not city property. This is not a SF issue at all, it's a national and even global environmental imperative.

Why let your obsession with public power and irrational hatred of a utility create a wedge between you and the

This has always been a losing issue for SFBG, as countless elections have proven. Why flog a dead horse?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

By all means, let's talk green credentials.

Restore Hetch Hetchy wants to spend $10 billion on a single restoration project that would trade one flooded valley for another, ruin San Francisco's pristine tap water, eliminate a major source of green electricity and emit 900 million pounds of carbon into the atmosphere, whose loudest supporter is a Tea Party Republican from Sacramento.

Steven has plenty of company on this: virtually every single progressive and moderate elected official in the entire Bay Area is against it: Senator Feinstein, Mayor Lee, the UNANIMOUS Board of Supervisors, Nancy Pelosi, Mark Leno, Tom Ammiano, and on and on and on...

Finally, Bain & Co. and Bain Capital are completely different companies.

Posted by Adrian Covert on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

is contrary to a much narrower loacl interest is going to be opposed by local politicians. Anyone who understands the way LA stole the Owens Valley and Mono Lake knows the score here, and it's only when these uppity local pol's get slapped down, do the national, environmentals and broader interests prevail.

This isn't SF's private asset - it's a national park. And it would be replaced by several downstream reservoirs in much less enviromentally sensitive areas. It's a win-win. SFBG just sees this as a public revenue source - any interest they claim for the environment comes second to their obsession for taking everything under governemnt control. Don't be fooled by them.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

Love that your name is up here and you're defending the cause. Mad respect.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 11:20 am

Unless we build new dams, San Francisco would lose 42 percent of its electricity generating capacity if the dam at Hetchy Hetchy went away. Replace that with natural gas-fired plants and you add 387,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions a year.

85 percent of the drinking water delivered to SF and regional customers originates at the main dam. There is no additional storage at other dams. Fresh water for SF will have to come from other sources, most likely the Delta, which is way overstressed already.

Posted by tim on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 3:51 pm

further downstream, which is what happened further south on the San Joaquin river. Those dams could also replace much of the hydro power, if that makes sense at the time.

Tim, it's really important here for your credibility that you set aside your obsession with public power, which the voters have always rejected, and focus only on the enviromental issues.

Hetch Hetchy must be restored, even though it will take decades. If you wouldn't support PG&E damming Yosemite Valley, then you should want to tear down HH dam.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 4:08 pm

This whole thing is as a result of a campaign by Dan Lungren to hurt the Peninsula and SF for being Democratic strongholds - nothing more, nothing less. It's absolutely hideous and on this issue - and I'm not joking - Steven is 100% correct.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

Is SF's water and power more important than restoring one of the most beautiful valleys on the planets.

You'd expect someone like Steven, or any local leftie pol, to want tor etain local benefit. That doesn't mean it's "right", which depends more on balancing priorities.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

Whatever value judgement you place on it it's wrong.

And as far as "restoring." You don't drain an enormous reservoir and then voila, it's back to normal! The previously existing ecosystem has been eradicated - Hetch Hetchy as it was will never return and that is a reality. Eradicating SF's source of clean water and power won't bring it back.

This is a politically-motivated attempt to punish Democratic areas while pumping up the profits of oil and gas companies. It's shameful any environmentalist would be behind it.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

it would take two or three decades. SF's water and power needs can be catered for otherwise but there is no way we can duplicate HH.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

"Two or three decades" seems really optimistic to me.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 11:41 am

should be substantially rehabilitated in that time. It's not like it's a toxic dump.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 11:58 am

The city of San Francisco put this stain on the earth, now it's time to clean up the mess. San Francisco needs to correct it's wrong!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

given that this is really a State and National issue. SF can't even control what goes on in the Presidio so how can we control Yosemite?

HH was an envirmental crime and we must redress it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

Restoring Hetch Hetchy has been studied 7 times in the past 25 years. Each study produced the same result: restoration is technically possible, but it would cost an obscene amount in terms of both money and carbon at a time when were short on the former and flush with the later. Plus, you'd end up with worse and less reliable tap water than when you started.

We should remember that California recently closed over 70 state parks because of an $11 million shortfall. It's pretty difficult to claim that $10 billion on a single project is money well spent, especially when it's net result is further climate damage.

Posted by Adrian Covert on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 5:35 pm

problem, and the money could be found for such an important restoration.

While the same water would still be used, just further downstream, so it would not be "less clean". It would be the same water.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

What makes a water supply clean is where it's stored, and what makes Hetch Hetchy such a clean storage location is that it's:

1. Away from humans
2. Upstream from agriculture
3. An enormous granite bowl

At no location downstream can these variables be met. There's just no way around it. And don't believe the 'we can conserve our way out' argument. SF uses less water per capita than any city in CA, and you can't recycle what you don't use.

Posted by Adrian on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 7:11 pm

I'd trust a pristine river over SF's rusty pipes anyway.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

Because water would just just flow into San Francisco naturally down a gently curving streambed lined with smooth river rocks, its shores lined with bucolic reeds and colorful flowers buzzing with bees. That's how it'll work once we get rid of Hetch Hetchy dam.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

As we did with the Yosemite water, unless of course you'd like to dam that too.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 4:13 pm

A new equally clean storage location could be constructed that would have a cover to control evaporation. The exterior of the cover could incorporate solar power cells to produce electricity. This would be a Win, Win, Win situation! Restore HH NOW!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

are not for storing water in.

The water-quality issues in downstream dams wouldn't be any worse than the water-quality issues in 50 other similarly situated foothill dams. When you say that this incredibly awesome glacial bowl has water-storage advantages over the fifty foothill dams, and the two proposed to replace it... well, I suppose it does. But this incredibly awesome glacial bowl still isn't appropriate for water storage.

Yosemite is special. Hetch Hetchy is special. (The fact that Hetch Hetchy won't necessarily have to be overstuffed with tourist architecture could make it more special.)

If you want to restrict your argument to the notion that we should wait for a new alternative energy regime to come online before we give up the hydropower emanating from Hetch Hetchy, fine. Maybe it's 15 years too soon to pull down this dam. But it needs to come down soon. Among other reasons, as proof-of-concept that dams can be removed. Hetch Hetchy isn't the only canyon that should never have been used for water storage.

Posted by hermann on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 11:00 am

dam were owned and run by PG&E. the SFBG would be screaming for it ro be demolished on "environmental grounds", of course.

But as long as SFBG see it as a conduit for increasing the power of local government, they'll be anti-environment until the cows come home.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 11:20 am

remember the elwah!

Posted by marcos on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

What are your top three reasons for wanting to sustain a hydro dam in a national park, excluding any Brugmannesque powergrabs?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 1:52 pm

Restore Hetch Hetchy, conserve water here in the PUC service area, replace generation downstream at less environmentally destructive sites.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 5:39 pm

30 million Californians who don't live in the Bay Area would have no reason to vote to keep the dam.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 5:49 pm

Those 30 million Californians aren't going to be sympathetic to the Bay Area abandoning its ingenious water system and dipping its straw into the Delta.

Posted by Adrian on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 7:05 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 4:23 am

Whereas Hetch Hetchy was built generations ago, you'd be asking fishermen and local environmentalists to give up miles of Wild and Scenic Tuolumne riverfront that they've spent their entire lives enjoying. I'd expect them to put up a fight.

Posted by Adrian on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 8:34 am

recreational use, not remove it. That's a key advantage of the idea.

It's the same amount of water storage wherever it is stored.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 8:56 am

You misunderstand. The tradeoff is to ruin a wild and scenic river that exists now in order to do a restoration in a far less accessible area that would take decades.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2012 @ 1:34 pm


Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 11:02 am


Posted by Adrian on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 11:32 am

who considers herself an environmentalist, and who does not live in the Bay area, but up near Yosemite itself, I'd still have to disagree with this time. Yeah, I would LOVE to see HH restored. But with the state as broke as it is, NOW is not the time. We have to get our priorities straight. Let me give you an example: I am 53, disabled, and now poor as a result of my unexpected life circumstances. I'm currently facing a terminal illness, but because of CA's new Medi-Cal regulations and pharmacological formularies, I can't get the medication I need, see the specialists I need to see (that I was seeing up until last year on Medi-Cal) or even get to doctors at all. No doubt my hastened death due to this will ease the over-burdened system, but damn it, it's NOT RIGHT. We HAVE to take care of PEOPLE FIRST. The people with NEEDS who cannot help themselves HAVE to come before projects like this. And if we can't even get medicines to desperately ill and terminal patients, or enough food to the hungry, or enough shelter for all the homeless, we have no business spending this kind of money on an environmental restoration project, no matter how "criminal and unfair" the original deed was back when it was first done. I never thought *I* would be the one in the place of "weakness" with my hand held out to the state, but you just never know what fate may throw your way. Bear that in mind when next you walk in to a voting booth.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 17, 2012 @ 12:29 am

That is so sad. But it really highlights the priorities we should be talking about.

Posted by Adrian Covert on Jun. 19, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

And where would the city get its water from? Would the other resources provide sufficient water? Tearing down the damn seems one of those half-baked ideas...

Posted by StevenTorrey on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 6:11 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 4:24 am

own throats.

"Restore Hetch Hetchy" = "Destroy Hetch Hetchy"

Yes. It's newspeak.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

Hetch Hetchy = the valley. The reservoir came sometime after the valley, and after the name. It's less confusing when you know the history.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 12:24 pm

I read somewhere that the state government was planning to divert SF water from Hetch Hetchy to central valley or LA and our only leverage against it is that SF has the power to tear the dam down.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 9:30 am

Great article S. Jones. After reading, "it might be kinda cool to have another beautiful valley to hike in once the sludge dries up over a few decades," I want to point out the fact that you can still hike in the area Hetch Hetchy resides in. In response to the notation on Dan Lungren, "because he loves Yosemite Valley so much and wants to create another one," if we tore down the damn we would be displacing/destroying the current natural ecosystem and inhabitants, temporarily or permanently. It would be like the tragedy of Fern Gully. Who want's to see Fern Gully in action? Not me. A "second" Yosemite Valley would cause increased foot traffic in the nearly pristine wilderness that currently exists, as would the cars and the gawking tourists add to pollution and abnoxiousness. We would be creating another disneyland sell out. This may be the one healthy case where man and nature can co-exist and the 2.6 billion Bay Area residents can live off natural resources without depleting them entirely or ruining habitats. Right now, Hetch Hetchy exists beautifully. If you want to visit, go visit.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 11:19 am

I've hiked almost every mile of trail in NW yosemite. Most of them multiple times. Sorry, Hetch Hetchy is an ugly eyesore, a blight on a once beautiful landscape. The dam and associated buildings, power cables, and other infrastructure are ugly, and the lake is so obviously unnatural it's jarring even when you can't see the dam.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

so your hike in Yosemite will be prettier?

Unbelievably, pathologically narcissistic.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

While the same water would simply be stored downstream. Your arguments are red herrings.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 3:32 pm
Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 16, 2012 @ 7:38 am

prejudicial? Why doesn't that surprise me?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 16, 2012 @ 8:34 am

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