The question of where San Francisco will get its water and energy is addressed this upcoming election by Proposition F, which requires the city to create an $8 million plan to drain the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and come up with ways to replace the resources it provides.

How It Is Now

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir supplies San Francisco with 85 percent of its water, collected from the Tuolumne River and disbursed to 2.6 million people in the city and neighboring areas like Modesto and Turlock. This water also creates all of the hydroelectric power for San Francisco’s municipal needs, for things like hospitals, fire stations, Muni and City Hall. Overall, the system produces 1.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year, enough to power 400,000 homes.

The Plan

If passed, Prop. F would mandate only the creation of a two-phase plan; voters would weigh in on whether or not to implement the findings in 2016.

The first phase would explore how to replace the electricity and water that would be lost by draining the reservoir, through such means as water conservation, filtration and storage programs and identifying alternative energy sources like wind and solar.

The second phase would determine exactly how to drain the reservoir and restore Hetch Hetchy Valley to its original state.

The Arguments

At the heart of this issue are two different perspectives. The authors of Prop. F, Restore Hetch Hetchy, are focused on an environmental ideal: repairing a piece of Yosemite National Park. Its opponents, Save Hetch Hetchy, believe that achieving that ideal is unrealistic and would have dire consequences for the city.

The battle over Hetch Hetchy has been raging since the early 1900s, when John Muir tried to prevent the valley’s flooding. Muir lost the fight when Congress permitted the construction of O’Shaughnessy Dam in order to create publicly controlled electricity.

In a July 2012 editorial in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Tim Redmond wrote:

“The reason the Raker Act, which authorized the destruction of Hetch Hetchy Valley, was approved was that the conservationists, who opposed the dam, were trumped by the public-power advocates, who argued that preventing private companies from controlling the electric power grid was so important that it justified environmental sacrilege.”

Mike Marshall, the campaign manager for Restore Hetch Hetchy, sees things differently.  “Prop. F will look at how can we undo the damage we’ve done to the Tuolumne and Yosemite National Park, and bring that plan back to voters in 2016 and see if it’s worth doing.”

Besides restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley, Prop. F will look at water recycling options, including rainwater catchment. According to Marshall, it rains 20 inches per year in San Francisco, which would account for half of our yearly water use.

“Coming up with a water-recycling program is valuable whether or not we take down the dam. San Francisco doesn’t recycle any water,” says retired National Park Service employee and San Francisco resident Mack Shaver.

The opponents of Proposition F argue that San Francisco’s demands on water and electricity are too great and passing the measure would mean wasting $8 million on a study.

“It’s really very simple,” says P.J. Johnston of the opposition group Save Hetch Hetchy. “Hetch Hetchy Reservoir stores 85 percent of the water that 2.6 million Bay Area residents rely on. Seven studies in the past 30 years have shown that if you drain that reservoir, it will cost billions of dollars and there’s no identified alternative place to store it.”

Prop. F has attracted support from a variety of conservation groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation and numerous Sierra Club chapters. Locally, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, the entire Board of Supervisors and Sen. Dianne Feinstein oppose it.

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  1. If RHH had not used clever “doublespeak”, this prop would never have made it onto the ballot. SF’ers are fans of “sustainability” and usually have nothing against “restoration” – but no one I’ve talked with who signed the petition realized it meant the end of the dam at Hetch Hetchy, the end of Camp Mather.

    These folks are tricksters – and RHH more truly stands for Ruin Hetch Hetchy than it does for Restore HH.

    Who will profit from expensive plans to resource water, resource electricity? Who wants as second valley full of tourists and car exhaust in Yosemite? Is that what John Muir shed tears for? Because there was not enough asphalt in that valley?

    There is no true return to the past – we don’t pull down our cities – why pull down our source of life?

    NO on F – F for FAIL!!

    1. The narrow minded thinking here is pretty appalling.

      So “Camp Mather”, you are arguing that the present state of Hetch Hetchy as an artificially-impounded reservoir is worth more than it would be as a biodiverse ecological and recreational amenity? I very much disagree with you on that point.

      Dan – many of the senior scientists and water resources managers working for the California Resources Agency / Department of Water Resources are in support of this effort, and feel that there are extremely viable solutions to the water supply and energy concerns that are relevant to this proposal.

      This issue has been studied in some degree of detail – I recommend interested readers see this to get themselves truly educated about Prop F:

      Is the potential for restoration of one of the most beautiful portions of our state worth $8 mil? I would argue yes.

      Is San Francisco PUC behind the curve on water management (including recycling and conservation)? Definitely.

      Is it time to give this issue serious consideration? Yes.

    2. It’s amazing how much misinformation is out there about this issue; some of it just ignorance and some of it deliberate distortions and outright lies by the desperate opponents of Prop. F. For example, the statement that reservoir elimination means the end of Camp Mather fits in both categories. That canard has its roots in the fact that the RHH study suggested the IF the whole dam was to be removed then Camp Mather would be a logical TEMPORARY staging area for the removal effort. Emphasis on “temporary”. More recently, most proponents has suggested leaving the dam in place and simply poking a little hole in the bottom. That alternative saves money and leaves us a lasting reminder that we should never again do something so selfish and arrogant as putting a dam in a National Park.

      And if “Camp Mather Matters” is so concerned about crowds and car exhaust maybe he/she should start a movement to put a dam strategically located on the Merced River so as to flood that horrible, smoggy, crowded Yosemite Valley. The water could be sent somewhere like the Westlands Water District for growing more almonds and cotton to ship to Asia.

  2. I am surprised that many “environmental” groups support Prop. F. Any effort to carry out such a plan would result in a larger carbon footprint. What’s done is done. Global warming is going to result in less snowpack water storage, so eliminating Hetch Hetchy will simply worsen our condition. As a last-ditch effort I would imagine the Governor’s office would step in and seize Hetch Hetchy under eminent domain.