Group wants plug pulled on Hetch Hetchy

About 85 percent of water in the San Francisco Bay Area comes from Hetch Hetchy, a reservoir in the heart of Yosemite National Park. Using the Hetch Hetchy Valley as a water tank instead of natural habitat has been heavily debated since the idea was first floated after the 1906 earthquake.

These days, a group called Restore Hetch Hetchy is trying to convince officials in San Francisco to find out what would happen if the dam were drained and the valley restored.

The group, a breakaway from the Sierra Club, is a single-issue nonprofit. It currently needs 9,702 signatures by July 9 in order to get its initiative on the November ballot.

The initiative would require City officials to make plans for draining Hetch Hetchy. Plans would also include exploring other possibilities for bringing water into The City.

Planning must be completed by 2015. The 2015 agreement would then go to voters on the November 2016 ballot.

The initiative limits planning expenses to $8 million and allows The City to keep pulling water from the Tuolumne River, which was dammed in 1920 to form the reservoir.

The idea has been getting harsh frowns from city officials. Mayor Ed Lee called it “insane,” and the entire Board of Supervisors has clearly stated its opposition to the plan. Distaste for it extends beyond The City to Sacramento and Washington.

Among groups trying to swat away the idea is the Bay Area Council, a coalition of local businesses. President Jim Wunderman told the Ex he believes the idea is misguided:

“The idea, just as an idea, hanging out there, sounds good, until you realize what a disaster it would be. We think if the idea were to take hold, it would be an economic disaster for the Bay Area.”

Restore Hetch Hetchy has suggested raising other dams owned by SF to provide more water storage, but officials say they cannot be raised any higher.

Plans such as desalinization of salt water in the San Joaquin Delta, groundwater, and recycling waste water have been considered, but chief of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Ed Harrington, said that while these plans are just small drops in a big bucket:

“Those things are possible… They don’t make up for 85 percent of the water supply.”