The 1906 earthquake devastated San Francisco. The aftermath elucidated a need for a stable source of water, which would help heal the overwhelmed metropolitan (Elizabeth). Mayor Phelan ordered the Spring Valley Water Company to search for a substantial source of water, and they stumbled upon an eight mile stretch of the Tuolumne River, located in the heart of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, Yosemite’s twin sister (Hetch Hetchy Reservoir). Protected by the Yosemite National Park Territory, the valley was unable to construct a dam.
President Theodore Roosevelt developed a policy of “multiple-use resource management,” and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot, was his right hand man in the pursuit of utilizing America’s resources to their maximum output for the longest period of time. The Right of Way Act, passed by President Roosevelt, allowed congress to donate government lands to states and caused much controversy. A deep rift began to form between conservationist and preservationist ideals (Kennedy 669). The Raker Act, which allowed the O’Shaughnessy dam to flood the once stunning Hetch Hetchy Valley, was soon signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on December 19, 1913 (Hetch Hetchy Reservoir).
Today, San Franciscan voters decided the fate of this century old dam in the 2012 election through Proposition F, which proposed the creation of a two-phased plan to drain the Hetch Hetchy Valley and find alternative water and power sources. The plan would allot $8 million to be utilized in the most cost-efficient way possible; not to mention the plans must be completed before November 1, 2015, in order for the Board of Supervisors to consider a Charter Amendment for the legislation of the plan. Given these details, San Francisco County voters clearly voiced their opinions, as they shot down this plan with 76.9% to 23.1% (ballotpedia.org). Although this proposition was not even given a chance by the citizens, it will not be the last San Francisco hears about draining and restoring this once magnificent valley.
The O’Shaughnessy Dam that flooded the Hetch Hetchy valley transformed the city of San Francisco. The city underwent a mass shift from a “gold rush boomtown” into a leading industrial city (Pottenger). Using an average of 40 million gallons of groundwater daily, this industrial expansion was no coincidence (Water for the Bay Area). The Hetch Hetchy Valley holds a stable 117 billion gallons of water, which has become essential to the way industries and people operate in the Bay Area; not to mention the 1.7 kilowatts an hour per year produced by the hydroelectric power generators on the massive dam. Serving 2.4 million people, the dam has become the very nature of the Bay Area’s success (Landers). Although the dam seems to be irreplaceable, the submerged environment was once known as a “temple,” by the former head of the Sierra Club, John Muir, and many argue a need for resurrection (Kennedy 669). Industrial activists argue that the expenses presented in tearing down the dam are far too substantial to account for the mass budget cuts in California. For example, California state parks are facing a large amount of budget cuts from the $11 billion of state cuts in the past year (Lovett). Two-hundred and seventy-eight state parks were “forced to shut their doors,” and Governor Jerry Brown “attempted” to preserve those with the most “attendance and historical significance.” According to studies, on the other hand, park attendance and revenue have been able to withstand the…