Vote to raze dam at Hetch Hetchy put on hold in SF

August 11, 2010 

San Francisco residents will not vote this year on whether to remove Hetch Hetchy Reservoir from Yosemite National Park.

Proponents had considered putting a measure on the June or November ballot. The deadline for the latter just passed.

"We have deferred it to either 2011 or 2012," said Mike Marshall, executive director of Restore Hetch Hetchy.

The San Francisco-based group aims to knock down O'Shaughnessy Dam, which backed up the Tuolumne River in Hetch Hetchy Valley upon its completion in 1934.

The system supplies water and power to San Francisco and several other Bay Area cities. It also sells wholesale electricity to the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts.

A vote would be only the first step toward draining the reservoir and finding alternatives sources. The city would have to come up with money for these projects, estimated at $10 billion in a 2006 state study but just $1 billion to $3 billion by Restore Hetch Hetchy.

One suggestion is enlarging Don Pedro Reservoir, which supplies water and power to the irrigation districts lower on the river. That would require an agreement with the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, which might be loathe to get involved in an effort that involves removing a piece of the state's waterworks.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir has been controversial for decades. Its approval in 1913 bitterly disappointed John Muir, an early leader in national park efforts.

Opponents of the removal generally agree that the reservoir should not have been built in Yosemite. They note, however, that the system supplies high-quality water without big pumping costs and that the power sales benefit the city.

Restore Hetch Hetchy likely will ask the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to place the measure on a future ballot, Marshall said. This would require support from at least six of the 11 board members, which could be easier than gathering about 42,000 signatures from registered voters in the city.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at 578-2385 or jholland@modbee.com.

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