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.