Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Loving Yosemite means many things ... like loving reliable water deliveries as well

For many of us, loving Yosemite means loving the whole park and therefore restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley to its former glory. And restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley means developing a practical water system solution for San Francisco and its Bay Area customers. So Restore Hetch Hetchy loves a reliable water system as well.

We have always emphasized that San Francisco can and should continue diversions of high quality Tuolumne River water. We just don't want the city to store the water within the boundaries of Yosemite. Analysis shows that 95% of the Tuolumne River supplies now diverted to San Francisco would still be available after Hetch Hetchy Valley is restored.  

So we are scratching our heads over the recent news that another critical piece of San Francisco's infrastructure is at risk. As the SF Examiner reports, the Mountain Tunnel could collapse and is in need of a $M 628 repair. The Mountain Tunnel is just one of five principal tunnels through which Tuolumne River diversions flow enroute from the Sierra to the Bay Area (see diagram). 

Restore Hetch Hetchy supports repair of this critical infrastructure - as we did a decade ago when the Irvington Tunnel was shown to be at risk.  But we also question whether this latest revelation is yet another reason why San Francisco (as well as other urban communities) should question the wisdom of relying on a single remote source for the majority of its water. Last summer's "Rim Fire" made us ask the same question.

Diversity is reliability. Water systems of the future will increasingly develop local supplies - by better managing groundwater, recycling wastewater, capturing storm water and storing supplies closer to their customers.

We hope San Francisco will soon support restoration of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley, and will diversify its system as well to increase reliability. But meanwhile, we support a timely and cost-effective solution to the problems with the Mountain Tunnel.

Spreck Rosekrans is Executive Director of Restore Hetch Hetchy   

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Day hikes into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne?

Yesterday’s Water Law Symposium at UC Hastings in San Francisco included a session titled “The Hetch Hetchy Controversy”. The session included good questions and a few strong opinions on both sides from the audience, as well as some of the usual repartee between Restore Hetch Hetchy and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).

One young man asked whether we wanted to create “another Yosemite Valley”. By the way he asked the question, he was asking if we envisioned a restoration plan with the infrastructure, crowds and traffic jams that can be overwhelming in Yosemite Valley.

I responded that Restore Hetch Hetchy does not have a definitive plan for how the valley should be managed once it is restored – that is something for the public and National Park Service to work out. I pointed out, however, that the Park Service has allowed little development in Denali, a more recently established national park.

I did say that I could imagine a Hetch Hetchy Valley that did not allow the private automobile, but which included an efficient shuttle system (light rail, bus, or tram) that would transport visitors to the upper end of the valley. I explained that such a shuttle system would allow day hikes into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne – a spectacular area that lies upstream of the current reservoir. Presently the only way to see the Tuolumne’s “Grand Canyon” is to do a multi-day backpack trip.

The SFPUC representative opined that allowing day use of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne would ruin it. (He further opined that the reservoir is protecting the valley – something we have heard before.)

What do supporters of restoration think about how the Park Service should manage a restored valley? How should people get to the upstream end of the valley? Should there be roads? If so, what about the private automobile? How about paved paths for bicycles and wheelchairs?

And should a restored valley include campgrounds or other lodging? Where should these be?

If Yosemite Valley accommodates 4,000,000 people a year, what is the right vision for Hetch Hetchy Valley? Bear in mind that both are about nine miles long but Yosemite Valley is wider.

How do we restore a valley so it can be loved but not loved to death?

Please share any thought you have on these matters below. Right now the discussion is just for fun. It will be more serious, and more exciting, once plans to remove the reservoir are in place.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Can the drought provide a silver lining for Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy?

As expected, Gov. Brown has declared a statewide drought in California. We’ve had dry years and even droughts before, but nothing that compares to a winter this dry (so far) since 1977.

There’s only so much we can do once we’re in this mess. In our cities, we will cut back, take short showers and let our yards go brown. In the Central Valley, many fields will go unplanted - causing economic hardship and increasing food prices.

The Governor’s executive order does do a few things. It includes provisions to streamline (pun intended) water transfers - the market-based sale of water from one user to another. Transfers can be complicated, physically and politically, but when done right transfers provide a powerful economic incentive for efficient use while reducing the pressure to increase diversions from our rivers, streams and wetlands. But the appropriate processing of and guidelines for managing water transfers should be in place permanently, as executing them on a piecemeal  basis in dry years serves neither the planning needs of water agencies nor the public’s need to ensure natural resources are not harmed.

The governor’s announcement describes the depleted state of major reservoirs in California, comparing them to average levels. There are a few things worth noting. First, the O’Shaughnessy Dam/Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park is not included in this list. That is because every stream in California’s Sierra Nevada is controlled by a dam that is much larger than O’Shaughnessy. Second, the governor’s announcement does not show how much water is available in our aquifers. That’s because we don’t know - in many parts of California there is little or no control of who pumps out how much groundwater.

Groundwater management is a mixed bag in California. In 2014 as much as 40% of our statewide supply may be pumped from underground. In some areas unsustainable groundwater pumping will allow farmers to get by for another year (albeit with significant pumping costs) but only will exacerbate long-term overdraft problems. On the other hand, most of California’s urban centers have invested in groundwater recharge by replenishing aquifers in Kern County and will be very glad they made those investments.

It may be that the dire conditions statewide this year will be sufficient to inspire improved regional and/or statewide solutions to the well-publicized over drafting of our groundwater basins. Keep your eyes on places like Stanislaus County, where recently hired Water Resources Manager Walt Ward will need to address lawsuits that challenge permits to drill of new wells.

The drought may also encourage cities to move more aggressively on their plans to increase the recycling of wastewater. To date, we have mostly seen recycled water put into “purple pipe” – to be used only for irrigation and industrial uses - not for drinking. The game changer will be when cities recycle and fully treat wastewater to potable standards (“Direct Potable Reuse”). Scientists and engineers tell us that doing so is perfectly safe, and note that many communities drink water today which is diverted downstream of other communities’ water treatment plants. But drinking recycled water is not yet approved by the California Department of Public Health or accepted by the public. When Singapore developed its Direct Potable Reuse program, they enlisted the participation of elected officials and celebrities in a successful public relations campaign. There is a rumor that San Diego will be the first city in California to propose Direct Potable Reuse, but it is being cautious for now. You can visit San Diego’s demonstration recycling plant, but they won’t let you drink the water!

As for the opportunity to Restore Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park, we’ve always insisted that restoration should not take place until replacement storage and/or other water supplies are in place. Hetch Hetchy Reservoir of course is not a source of water; it’s simply storage - about 12% of the total surface storage in the Tuolumne River watershed. And there are opportunities to replace that storage - such as expanding the offstream Los Vaqueros Reservoir or investing in the Semitropic Water Bank.

But while Hetch Hetchy is a medium-size reservoir by California standards, it’s the greatest blemish in all of America’s national parks. It was taken from the American people 100 years ago and it is time to give it back.

Let’s hope for a silver lining in this year’s drought. While 2014 looks to be a tough year from a water supply perspective, it may provide the incentive we need to reform and improve our water systems. And with right improvements, we will be able to restore Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Media Summary of Raker Act Centennial

See below for a summary of media coverage of the centennial of the Raker Act on  December 19, 2013. The Raker Act was the legislation that allowed the damming of Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley.
Happy Holidays,


Restore Hetch Hetchy

o  Hetch Hetchy Centennial Marked, Sonora Union Democrat, 12-9-13,
o  Raker Act changed Tuolumne River’s course 100 years ago, Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star, 12-19-13
o  Writing Hetch Hetchy history, SG Examiner (slide show), 12-20-13
o   Water Wars Began in SF 100 Years Ago, NBC Bay Area, 12-19-13

Editorial opinions

o  Viewpoints: Time to return Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy to the American people, Spreck Rosekrans, Sacramento Bee, 10-20-13

o  Restore Hetch Hetchy? In can be done, Dan Lundgren and John Van de Kamp, Los Angeles times, 12-2-13

o  Hetch Hetchy: Congress should undo the destructive Raker Act, Bob Binniweis, B.J. Griffin and Dave Mihalic, San Jose Mercury News, 12-13-19


Blogs etc.

o  Restoring the Lovely Hetch Hetchy Valley Restores More Than A National Park, Prof. Barbara Mossberg, Huffington Post, 12-17-13

o  Hetch Hetchy and a Century of Environmentalism, Roger Williams, Sierra Club, 12-18-13

o  Hetch Hetchy: A century of occupation in Yosemite National Park, Spreck Rosekrans, Mavens Notebook: A water, science and policy blog, 12-19-13

o  A Vision for Restoring Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley, Ken Brower, Earth Island Journal, 12-19-13

o  Gathering the spirit to recover the river wild, Letters, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 12-19-13

o  An Unhappy Anniversary for Hetch Hetchy, Rick Frank, Legal Planet, 12-20-13

o  100 years later, SF water war rages on –Hetch-Hetchy or Bust!!, Stephen Frank, California’s Political News and Views, 12-19-13

o  Hetch Hetchy—San Frans’ Water and Budget Balancer, Stephen Frank, California’s Political News and Views, 9-18-13

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Statement of Restore Hetch Hetchy 
on the Centennial of the Raker Act
December 19, 2013

100 years ago today, for the only time in American history, we allowed significant destruction within one of our national parks. When President Woodrow Wilson signed the Raker Act, he permitted Yosemite National Park’s Hetch Hetchy Valley to be dammed and submerged beneath 300 feet of water for use as a reservoir by San Francisco.

The Raker Act was deeply controversial, and was condemned in more than 200 newspaper editorials nationwide.  That outcry is often cited as the birth of today’s conservation movement. Three short years after the Act was signed, Congress atoned by passing the National Park Service Act, largely to protect our national parks from any further disfigurement.

Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley, however, remains underwater and unavailable to the American people for whom it was originally meant to be preserved “in perpetuity.” That reservoir is the greatest blemish in America’s otherwise magnificent national park system.

Restore Hetch Hetchy is committed to removing the reservoir and returning Hetch Hetchy Valley to the American people, thereby making Yosemite National Park whole once again.

Restore Hetch Hetchy is also committed to working with all communities, especially the city of San Francisco, that rely on the Tuolumne River for water and power to ensure their needs are met when the valley is restored. To that end we have proposed system modifications that would allow San Francisco to divert the Tuolumne River downstream and outside of Yosemite National Park.

Alas, while many in San Francisco do support restoration, neither elected officials nor the city’s Public Utilities Commission have been willing to engage with Restore Hetch Hetchy in constructive dialogue. San Francisco’s reluctance came to a head in 2012 when a well-financed campaign arose to prevent city officials from even taking part in a public discussion of the potential for restoration.

Therefore, while it will always be Restore Hetch Hetchy’s goal to work cooperatively with San Francisco and its wholesale customers in the Bay Area, going forward we will focus our strategic efforts on decision-making entities outside the city. We will engage Congress directly and we will challenge ongoing occupation of Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley in the state and federal courts.

Congress - Amend the Raker Act: Restore Hetch Hetchy, working with our colleagues, will pursue a bipartisan effort in Congress to amend the Raker Act. An amended Raker Act would allow San Francisco to keep its other reservoirs, pipelines, and powerhouses in the Tuolumne River watershed, but would require the city to relinquish Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and to return the valley to Yosemite National Park and the American people.

State and federal courts: Restore Hetch Hetchy will pursue promising legal options that will directly challenge the ongoing operation of San Francisco’s water system as a violation of both state and federal law. These new legal actions will complement but be separate from our ongoing involvement in the relicensing of Don Pedro Reservoir, where San Francisco’s water bank is twice the volume of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Restore Hetch Hetchy will of course continue our efforts to educate the public, directly and through the media. And we stand willing to work with San Francisco and other Bay Area communities to develop a sustainable and responsible water supply as we pursue restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park.

100 years ago, this nation’s lawmakers made a grave environmental mistake. Today, we are resolved to undoing that mistake, and we invite our fellow citizens to join us in making Yosemite National Park whole again.

The mission of Restore Hetch Hetchy is to return the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to its natural splendor while continuing to meet the water and power needs of all communities that depend on the Tuolumne River. For more information, visit

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fact vs. Fiction: Restoration Of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park

Fact vs. Fiction: Restoration Of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park

It was great to hear Mike Marshall, Restore Hetch Hetchy Executive Director, and Congressman Dan Lungren on KQED radio today discussing the opportunity to restore Yosemite National Park’s second great valley with host Michael Krasny.

The show is posted on KQED’s website and is definitely worth a listen:

Ed Harrington, general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of Bay Area Council, presented the opposing view that the reservoir should be left in place. These men raised a number of valid issues that must be addressed.

But Wunderman and Harrington also misrepresented a number of fundamental facts about the existing system and what restoration would involve. These misrepresentations include:

Fiction: All 400 MW of San Francisco’s hydroelectric power would be destroyed.

Fact: The truth is that all three of San Francisco’s hydroelectric power plants would still be operational and only the Kirkwood plant would generate significantly less power during late summer and fall when the Tuolumne River’s natural flow is low. Modeling studies suggest only 20% of San Francisco’s hydropower would be lost, certainly not all of it.

Fiction: San Francisco and its customers have just invested 4 billion dollars in this system to make it seismically safe and this money would be wasted if restoration takes place.

Fact: This investment pertains to retrofits in the Bay Area that have little to do with the water that San Francisco stores in the Sierra Nevada. Restore Hetch Hetchy has supported the retrofit and encouraged other environmental groups to do so as well. This is money well spent but is a separate issue from restoration.

Fiction: The California Department of Water Resources said restoration would cost 10 billion dollars.

Fact: DWR actually said it could cost as little as 3 billion dollars or as much as 10 billion dollars. And even the lower estimate of 3 billion dollars included enough additional water supply to replace the relatively small amount that would be lost several times over.

Fiction: Restoration would put the region at risk in huge ways.

No one has proposed that restoration of the valley take place until facilities to provide equivalent water and power to those who use it are in place and operational.

Fiction: The Bay Area would go to the bottom of the list in terms of water rights.

Fact: Restoration would not affect anyone’s water rights to the Tuolumne River. All it means is that the water would not be stored in Yosemite National park.

Fiction: The Bay Area would not have sufficient water in 1 out of 5 years.

Fact: In one out of five years some water would need to be replaced. In most years, San Francisco’s other 8 reservoirs and water rights on the Tuolumne would provide full supplies while allowing ample reserves.

Fiction: 85 % of San Francisco’s water is stored in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Fact: Hetch Hetchy Reservoir stores only about 25% of San Francisco’s water.

Fiction: It would take a huge amount of energy to pump the water to San Francisco if Hetch Hetchy Valley were restored.

Fact: Water would still be diverted at “Early Intake”, on the Tuolumne River just below Yosemite National Park, and would flow from there to the Bay Area under gravity. Very small amounts of energy would be required in some parts of the system, as it is now.

Fiction: Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was required because San Francisco ran out of water to fight the fire following the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.

Fact: San Francisco had plenty of supply in local reservoirs in 1906. The problem was that pipes within the city broke during the quake.

Fiction: Restoration would bring tremendous risk and harm to the region.

Fact: The amount of water and power at stake are not large, but are far less than has been replaced in other environmental restoration projects around the State. And restoration will not take place until replacement facilities are in place.

Restore Hetch Hetchy understands and respects that many people have other priorities and do not support restoration. We believe, however, that the debate over restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park is worth having. And we ask our opponents to stick to the facts.

Interested persons can learn more about these issues by reading the plethora of reports posted at

Monday, August 8, 2011

Big Lil Loop, Day Two

Sublime is how I’d describe Day 2 of our adventure. After a restful night we woke to a breakfast of grits with cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. I was feeling wonderful. Most of the group was planning a hike around the lake to see the view from a dome on the side of the lake. I definitely did not want to tax myself with that, but I did want to walk back a mile to Beehive and see all the flowers during the day. Unfortunately everyone except Rebecca, Jason’s 11-year-old, was going on the long hike and Rebecca wanted to stay in camp. Heather advised me against going alone, and I happily obliged.

Instead, I sat in the shade and wrote in my journal. I laid on my back and meditated on the tree tops. I read from a book of Muir writings borrowed from Mike Marshall. And a few times I made the 20-foot trip over to the waters edge to sit on a log and filter water with electric-blue damselflies sailing about in between their own log rests.

It was perhaps the most relaxing morning of my adult life.

Close to lunch time the group returned with tales of climbing across fallen logs through marshy fields. We had a lot lunch of leftover rice and beans, at my suggestion (that food had not sounded tasty the night before, but did now; a good sign.)

It was 2 p.m. by the time we packed up and headed down the trail, but we only had four mostly-downhill and shaded miles to go to our next and last camp, Gravel Pit Lake. Just as we started out and crossed a stream that fed into Laurel Lake, we came out of the trees into a picture-perfect meadow decorated with flowers and butterflies. Clouds formed behind us to the north that could have held lightning, and later we did think we were hearing a bit of thunder.

Heather had us gather ‘round and gave us a writing assignment (I was thrilled)! She asked us to think about something we had seen and write about it in the flowery way of Muir. My mind began working immediately.

We walked on, soon to a broad view of Lake Eleanor, then to our toughest water crossing at Frog Creek. We took off boots and waded across, me about to my waist. Some of the kids got carried piggy-back by their dads and some went for another swim!

On we ventured to the tune of conversation that ranged from music to religion to SF politics. At Gravel Pit Lake, we were quickly attacked by mosquitos, but found refuge a bit uphill in our own rock city, with established fire rings and knock-out views atop house-sized boulders.

Unfortunately I was the only one to complete the writing assignment. I kept quiet about that and instead read from one of Muir’s essays about experiencing a mountain storm. We marveled about how he welcomes and fully experiences that from which we hide. He wrote: “Nature was holding high festival, and every fiber of the most rigid giants thrilled with glad excitement.”