Hetch Hetchy views divided

July 16, 2003 11:00 pm
A tunnel takes people from the dam to the trail around the reservoir. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).
A tunnel takes people from the dam to the trail around the reservoir. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).

By GENEVIEVE

BOOKWALTER

As Yosemite National Park Ranger Deb Schweizer waited atop the 300-foot-tall O'Shaughnessy Dam yesterday, she chatted with two groups of visitors.

Members of each, she said, commented on the beauty of the 1,500- to 2,000-foot granite walls and Wapama Falls, a 1,000-foot cascade of water rushing down rocks into Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

But the conclusions each group walked away with were dramatically different.

One, Schweizer said, lamented the beauty lost when Congress approved damming the Tuolumne River in 1913 to create the reservoir and provide drinking water for the city of San Francisco.

The other group decided the valley was even more beautiful filled with 66 billion gallons of water.

The two strong opinions show, on a small scale, the fight surrounding Yosemite's 8-mile-long mountain reservoir. Though it provides some of the cleanest water in the world to San Francisco, an increasingly vocal group wants to tear it down.

Restoration worth the cost? Twain Harte's Bob Hackamack, chairman of the technical and engineering committee for Restore Hetch Hetchy — the group spearheading the effort to remove O'Shaughnessy Dam — eagerly speaks about the organization's effort.

About 1,000 people nationwide belong to Restore Hetch Hetchy, with most members living in California or on the East Coast.

Hackamack bubbles with ideas on how to restore the valley, many focused on moving the water to reservoirs downstream. For example, if the water were transferred to Don Pedro Reservoir, Hackamack said, studies have shown that reservoir would only rise 21 feet.

"Of course, conservation in San Francisco is not as active as it should be or could be," Hackamack said, implying if the city saved more water, residents might not draw as much from the Sierra snowpack.