In a letter to Restore Hetch Hetchy’s executive director, Mike Marshall, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) has rejected a request by the non-profit to hold a public hearing on the feasibility and benefits of restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park.
The refusal comes after poll results show mounting support by San Francisco’s citizens for the restoration of the valley.
Currently, Hetch Hetchy Valley is one of nine locations used by the City of San Francisco to store water and it is the only reservoir located in a national park. The cost to restore the valley is a major source of contention, with the SFPUC and California Department of Water Resources citing a cost ten times that of RHH, but without study or documentation to support their estimate.
In a letter dated November 17, 2011 sent in response to a letter sent by RHH on October 17th, Anson Moran, the President of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, rejected the idea of holding a public hearing on the restoration of Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley and described efforts to secure approval as “antithetical” to the charter of the city. However, the section of the city charter cited by Moran includes nothing that would preclude the SFPUC from restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley given that reasonable alternatives for water storage are available.
Multiple studies performed by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, the California Department of Water Resources, the University of California, Davis and the Environmental Defense Fund have all determined that utilizing Hetch Hetchy Valley as a water storage facility is unnecessary.
The SFPUC has estimated, without study, that restoration of the Hetch Hetchy valley will cost upwards of $9.8 billion dollars. Marshall disputes the high cost estimate of the SFPUC and DWR, offering his organization’s own cost estimate of around $1.5 billion.
Spreck Rosenkranz, an EDF board member, said, “Restore Hetch Hetchy is right on the cost issue. The State report estimated the cost to be a range of $3 to 10 billion, but that included developing far more water than would be lost. The SFPUC has never engaged on the substance of replacement.”
“We are deeply disappointed in the SFPUC’s response,” said Marshall in a press release issued this morning. “The SFPUC’s mission includes environmental stewardship of the Tuolumne River watershed, yet it has never considered the adverse environmental impacts of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir to Yosemite National Park, nor to the nine miles of Tuolumne River buried beneath the reservoir.
“We continue to believe that SFPUC’s mission mandates a public hearing on the issue,” continued Marshall. “San Franciscans pride themselves on their “green” reputation and we believe the City can and should become a better steward of the natural resources it controls,” continued Marshall. “To suggest that the City Charter prevent the SFPUC from even considering environmental improvements to the system is irresponsible and, in fact, ‘antithetical’ to the will of many San Franciscans.”
A July 2010 poll of San Francisco voters performed by David Binder Research, Inc. found that 59% of voters supported restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley if there was no increase in water rates and were evenly split (42%-43%, margin of error = 4%) if it required an increase in water rates.
The Water Enterprise Environmental Stewardship Policy of the SFPUC clearly states it is the purpose of the SFPUC “to establish long-term management direction for our owned lands and natural resources affected by operation of the water system within the Tuolumne River, Alameda Creek, and Peninsula watersheds. Environmental stewardship is a fundamental component of our mission, and a responsibility of all Water Enterprise employees. We are committed to responsible natural resources management that protects and restores viable populations of native species and maintains the integrity of the ecosystems that support them for current and future generations.”
In 1913, Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley was clear cut and flooded for use as one of the reservoirs that stores water for San Francisco. Prior to its destruction, Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley was one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world and home to thousands of plant and animal species.