Hetch Hetchy Dam

California Congressman Dan Lungren is asking the Interior Department to investigate whether San Francisco’s use of water from Hetch Hetchy Valley is against the law. Claiming that the city isn’t using its own water efficiently, Lungren’s ultimate goal is to remove the dam and restore the valley to its natural state. Critics of the dam-removal idea say the valley provides a crucial source of water and power.

Dan Lungren, Republican Congressman representing California's 3rd district
Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of Bay Area Council
Mike Marshall, executive director of Restore Hetch Hetchy
Ed Harrington, general manager of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

  • Roy

    As the 100 year birthday approaches for this site are there plans in place for eventual breaching simply due to the silting in of the impounded reservoir?

  • scott

    The damming of Hetch Hetchy was a tragedy, but there are other reasons to not support its “restoration”- It will always be a man made, managed landscape, regardless of how “natural” you attempt to make it look; there are so many threatened, but still recognizably untamed, landscapes in California worth the effort, money and emotions being invested in saving Hecth Hetchy..Henry Coe is but one great example. I can’t help but think that in restoring Hetch Hetchy it is still just the play thing of wealthy people wanting to play God, this time to empty it of water rather than fill it.

  • Congressman Lungren is a native of southern California, Long Beach to be specific, and formerly represented Long Beach in Congress.  He now represents what appears to be a gerrymandered Congressional district in northern California.  I find Lungren’s interest in Hetch Hetchy highly suspicious.  Why did the Congressman not take up the much more serious “Chinatown” issue of water abuse in southern California, going back to the Owens River Valley War?  I smell politics rather than sincerity.

    • scott

      …and excellent point.. where is Lundgren in the Owens Valley tragedy?

      • The now legendary Owens River Valley War occurred at about the same time Hetch Hetchy was built.  The Los Angeles Water authority surreptitiously bought up most of the land along US 395 east of the Sierras and diverted it to Los Angeles….hence the reference to “Chinatown.”

  • Sam

    I would love if Hetch Hetchy were to be restored, but an alternative plan for public green energy and water is a must. It would be a tragedy to dam another river simply to restore this valley, and it would also be a tragedy to resort to energy-inefficient desalination or hydrocarbon power.

    This also seems something which would work better as a long-term plan than a short-term one, especially with the budget problems of the state.

  • Wade

    If we are so worried about water why are we dumping the waste water into the bay and not rerouting to restore the groundwater supply?

    • Roy

      Excellent point, it should be noted that Las Vegas is light years ahead on this issue as well as cities in Australia. This is a really good show and discussion but I’m beginning to smell some questionable So Cal water politics emerging.

      • scott

        In the city of Las Vegas I can walk through a football sized plaza with airconditioning blasting out doors, misters everywhere; and and pools; and golf courses… really, Las Vegas is your example of a viable future?!

        • Roy

          Hi Scott, No Las Vegas is not an example of a complete viable future. Their water politics are equally volatile with a questionable history. Very similar to So Cal’s.

          Having said that they do recycle water and feed it back into Lake Mead. They do it because they must. Also, their allotment from the Colorado Water Pact is running very thin and they are considering building desalination plants in Mexico and trading for down river water up river. Necessity is the mother …

          As for their wasting of air conditioning and electricity that is another issue which I am certain we might agree on. Las Vegas and it’s very nature and purpose of existence is also a very bizarre issue … don’t get me started. Nope, not my idea of the future at all.

  • Mattregan1

    Congressman Lungren’s district has the highest per capita water use in California, heck, Sacramento only just began installing water meters!  HIs constituents use 288 gallons per day each!  its less than 100 in the Bay Area. You can’t recycle what you don’t use Congressman.  The only reason he cares about water and the environment all of a sudden is because its Nancy Pelosi’s district

    • Beth

      Do city folks even know who the folks are here in the Sierra where San Francisco get its water? We are not water hogs.

    • Beth

      Congressman Lungrens district also includes those of us here in the Sierras around San Andreas where most get water from wells and FEW use as much water as San Francisco sucks up.

      • TeaParty

        the numbers do not lie Beth.  And it doesn’t really matter if you are sucking up groundwater or taking it from a river, its all part of the same hydrological system.  People in SF use 57 gallons a day people in District 3 use 288.  FACT.

  • Dpoole

    Is the congressman mention that the restoration would be aimed towards migratory birds could we restore or a b late there have attached some were else where we do not have a massive reservoir

  • Jason Bishop

    I would pay $1000 right now if I could see hetch hetchy in my lifetime.

  • Doug, in Mill Valley

    Lets be honest here, for years this has been a Republican idea that is a political ploy to punish San Francisco for its progressive politics.  The union of environmentalists and Republicans is a sham marriage.

    • Precisely. This smells of Koch brothers politics. I have been acquainted with Dan Lungren since high school in Long Beach… He is a demagogue.  As mentioned earlier, when representing Long Beach in Congress, he showed no interest whatsoever in the unsavory history of water in southern California. 

  • Mark Palley

    The gravity fed system, and all the restored pipes, can and should be
    preserved. SF PUC will keep its Tuolumne water rights. The drinking
    water can be stored elsewhere in the Tuolumne system — in Cherry and
    Eleanor, in Don Pedro, and through the run of the river — and the
    gravity-fed pipes will be still used.

    Congr. Lungren is right. Let’s study this.

  • Ssmith

    the League of Conservation Voters gives Dan Lungren a 0% rating.  He is the most anti-environment member of Congress.  This is not about Hetch Hetchy or the environment, its about a conservative Congressman taking shots at San Francisco.

    • Mark Palley

      Congr. Garamendi, a Bay Area democrat, supports restoration of Hetch Hetchy. So does State Senator Lois Wolk of Vacaville. So do 3 former Yosemite administrators.

      • JohnMuir

        If what you say is true, why have none of these Bay Area democrats written to the Secretary of the Interior like Rep. Lungren? 

  • Mark Palley

    Mr. Harrington is mistaken that Don Pedro would need to be raised to
    store SF PUC water in Don Pedro. SF has banking rights in Don Pedro,
    which allows SF PUC to store water in Hetch Hetchy in dry years. If
    Hetch Hetchy were drained, this banking arrangement would no longer be
    needed. SFPUC could replace the banked water with water that SF PUC
    owned and stored in Don Pedro. This would only require changes to the
    contracts between SF PUC and Modesto or Turlock Irrigation Districts.

    It just takes creativity.

    • Paul

      Heck, let’s not stop at HH !! …Drain and take down New Don Pedro Dam also. Then remove the old DP dam now underwater. Then wait 30 years. The Tuolumne River is just as beautiful there too !

      Ooopps… wait a minute.. where would San Francisco, Fremont, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Palo Alto, etc., get water & electricity from?? Hmmm I know: Delsalinization…but wait, that requires a fossil fuel burning electric power plant nearby… hmmm…Where do we put that? Treasure Island? No, let’s go green and cover our Calif deserts with solar collectors…ooopps… that doesn’t work either ! The Sierra “Club” will clog the courts for deacades suing for against power-line right of ways from So-Cal to Nor-Cal. Let’s see: Desalinization ~$200 mil + new power plant, ~$400 mil. Court costs: ~$10 mil. Ripping out HH $68 mil. For all that money we could ship Perrier from France. Yeah I like that idea. Nope, politically incorrect: France is 90% nuclear.

      Oh well.

  • Roy

    Rumors have floated for years about the privatization of the National Parks and the Disney Corporation. Suddenly Disney is in the conversation on the restoration of Hetch Hetchy … what’s up with that?

    • Mark Palley

      Disney is not in the “mix.” Hetch Hetchy is in Yosemite National Park and will be maintained by the National Park Service and the US Department of Interior.

      • That is not accurate. Yosemite visitor facilities have been managed under private contract going back decades.  The issue of this arrangement has been a lightning rod for criticism for years.

  • Campfiregirl

    We should be protecting and restoring the Yosemite Valley specifically to protect our water supply.  And we should be using local ground water and water recycling in San Francisco.  Water is precious and it is kept clean by the surrounding ecosystem.  

  • JohnMuir

    Dear Congressman Lungren,  show us your concern for the environment by reducing water consumption in your own district, and let Nancy Pelosi take care of hers.  Hypocrite.

  • Just a thought.  Robert Redford is a Los Angeles native, born in Inglewood, and who worked at Camp Curry as a teenager.  I wonder what Robert Redford might say about Lungren’s sudden environmentalism?

  • Morcasa

    I am amazed that the speakers keep saying “restore this beautiful valley” as if all we have to do is drain the lake and the trees will leaf out next spring and the animals will return.  The valley was completely cleared of vegetation and has been subject to the ebb and flow of water for decades.  The soil loss on the slopes and the siltation at the bottom must be huge.  I have watched the time, money, and physical effort to restore the little creek through Napa to a more natural state and find it mind-boggling that no one has alluded to the scope of the job that is being discussed.

    I am also very curious about where the money is going if this plan is adopted.  Who will be collecting the cash for this study?

  • Mohammad Hassanpour

    a vote to fund a study about restoring Hetch Hetchy. Big damns harm
    ecosystems. San Francisco needs to recycle more water given the
    drinking water crisis. This dam is in the middle of Yosemite, a world
    renowned natural wonder. Yosemite is a national park so the study and
    draining should be funded by federal, not city or even state government.
    You can also increase charges for visiting and camping at Yosemite to
    fund the study and draining.

    • TeaParty

      Great plan Mohammad.  Why don’t you pick up the phone and ask Dan Lungren to appropriate the $65 million needed to do the study.

      Don’t forget to report back to us how that conversation goes.

  • Should we presume that Lungren has earmarked the new federal payroll tax windfall to pay for his study?

  • iamsupposed2rememberthis

    both sides cited facts, both sides refuted them, sounds like they each made a case for the status quo.

  • Gryphonisle

    Every day, SF DPW tanker trucks drive the streets of the City, spraying water on the pavement.  The effort is purely symbolic, to make the streets appear “clean” and to show the City hasn’t abandoned the more stressed areas.  It started under Newsom and quickly spread from the TL to much more posh areas.  Still, the trucks refill from the small, white hydrants which is Hetch Hetchy water and we live in a state that, despite our winning efforts at reducing water use, still has a population that exceeds the states natural water supply.  Spraying water on the street is discouraged among civilians, so why is the SF city government, so vocally progressive and liberal and uber environmental, wasting water on such a grand scale?

  • JohnMuir

    If all Dan Lungren wants is a study, and all a study costs is $65 million, why doesn’t he introduce an earmark next year for $65 million.
    Lets see how commited he is to this “cause”.

  • David, of OC and SF

    Why not first spend this money to develop water recycling for the bay area, isn’t it wiser to have water security before diminishing our water supply?

    If we are doing this to restore habitat, why? if it is for the sake of migratory birds from the 1930’s why not track their new migratory path first and see if this really offers some tangible benefit to the ecosystems?

    I am sure if we drain the dam an ecosystem will develop, but how many more beautiful mountain valleys do we really need in that area?

    I’ve not heard much about quantifiable tangible benefits in comparison to other potential projects (that we cannot fund anyways). I think this is entirely a sham for the congressman to support a project that simply will go nowhere in order to improve his appeal to environmentally conscious voters in the Sacramento region.

    • Greg Stemler

      Additionally, with respect to habitat restoration…
      Fisheries would benefit much more by removal of dams starting with those lowest in the watershed.
      Further, without getting into the long term maintenance of the actual dams, the reservoirs all have a lifetime associated with the rate at which they fill in with sediment. A reservoir such as the one in Hetch Hetchy is very high in a watershed dominated by granite which means it is not filling with sediment in any significant way. Most reservoirs lower in the watershed are filling in at a significant rate, which will eventually lead to quite a big problem.

      Yes Hetch Hetchy was beautiful, yes it was a pretty big loss for lovers of nature, but it’s over now. let’s look forward not back.

  • “Hetch Hetchy!  As well dam for water tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man!”   —John Muir

    Link is to a view of what this magnificent treasure looked like when Muir witnessed it, not long prior to its flooding.

    Hetch Hetchy Valley   The floor of Hetch Hetchy Valley as it appeared in 1919, before the construction of O’Shaughnessy Dam was breathtaking.  Note the tracks of the Hetch Hetchy Railroad.  Before the dam could be built, access and transportation to the valley floor had to be established.  Begun in 1914, the 68-mile railway was completed in 1917.  Fed by a perpetual underground glacier, Hetch Hetchy offered a single source of water for the  City of  San Francisco.


  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    As someone who lives in the Sierras it makes me mad that the water from OUR area
    is being shipped off to some place like San Francisco. If John Muir were alive
    he would be supporting the removal of the Hetch Hetchy dam. One would think San
    Francisco who brags about being so green would walk the talk. I live more of a
    simple, small is more lifestyle than most San Franciscans.

  • Beth

    Why not have San Francisco require grey water set ups so water isn’t wasted? Have any cities in the bay area enacted laws that make washing down driveways with a water hose, or having water hungry non food yards, illegal? Does the city sewer system have a system that cleans and diverts waste water to non food watering like here in the Sierras were parks, golf courses etc use cleaned waste water?

    Think long term and ask where will the water needed, come from? What is San Francisco and other bay area communities doing to install reservoirs that can hold rain water?

    And why should we here in the Sierras have to alter our environment in order for city folks to have  water?

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