Missing the point on Hetch Hetchy

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So now we have to have a vote on tearing down Hetch Hetchy. That's fine, let's have the discussion. But let's be honest about it: This isn't just, or even primarily, a water issue. It's really about electric power.

If you want to read the piece I wrote on this for Earth Island Journal, it's here. I've written loads more over the years, enough to fill a couple of good-sized books. But let me try to make the point as simply as I can.

The dam would never have been approved by Congress if it were just a reservoir for San Francisco's water. 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. The dam was supposed to provide the centerpiece for a local public-power system that would prevent Pacific Gas and Electric Company from controlling the city's energy system.

The history of Hetchy Hetchy isn't about water -- it's about how that power never made it to San Francisco. You can read it in great detail here. I have spent weeks in the National Archives in DC researching this, and have thousands of pages of documents on it. You may or may not support the idea of the city running a public-power system, but it's hard for anyone to argue that Congress intended anything else.

The city accepted the deal, built the dam, and has for almost a century ducked, bobbed, weaved, and tried everything possible to avoid kicking out PG&E.

So why keep the dam in place? I don't believe the Restore Hetch Hetchy people when they say that the city can find other storage for its water needs. Tear down the dam and we'll be sucking water out of the Delta soon enough. But forget that -- let's assume we could conserve enough water that we didn't need that reservoir.

We'd still have to replace a buttload of electric power. The city's hydropower system generates 1.7 billion kilowatt hours a year, enough to power more than 400,000 homes -- and does so without producing an ounce of CO2. Although there are other powerhouses in the system, we'd lose almost half of its capacity if we tore down the dam.

It seem to me that existing large hydro, while imperfect, is a more environmentally sound form of electricity generation than coal, oil, natural gas, or nuclear -- and right now, those are the alternatives.

Soon enough the city will have enough small-scale distributed generation, mostly rooftop solar, to get rid of both PG&E and the dam. Count me as a supporter. But we're not there yet.

In the meantime, if we're going to have this discussion, let's talk about electricity, and PG&E, and the Raker Act, not just water and the once-pristine valley.

 

 

 

Comments

"We have to have a vote." Damn those initiatives, those damn voters trying to damn the dam.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

Let's also mention that this initiative is backed by the likes of right-wing Republican Dan Lungren as an attempt to punish and and throttle population growth in San Francisco and the Peninsula.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

Divide and conquer. The right wing plays *real* hardball. It doesn't matter how stupid or crazy their (stated) policy objectives are, just as long as they are either helping themselves/constituents (i.e. corporations) or kneecaping the opposition.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 5:18 pm

Last time I checked, the Hetch Hetchy people were pretty leftist.

Lundgren is a red herring. Do your homework.

Posted by Zingbat McGillicutty on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 6:03 pm

Argument by the assertion of cooties.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 6:08 pm

So wrong. So very wrong. My blood boils when I consider it. Please rethink. Look: just think about it in terms of harmony among the forces generally on our side of the spectrum. Can't you see it?

Yes, restoring Hetch Hetchy to a pristine valley would be nice. It would be nice to restory all of California for that matter, but the *problem* with realizing that goal is that there are *people* here who would have to be relocated to other parts of the country to do so.

Listen: there are other goals -- laudable goals -- which progressives and environmentalists *can* agree on and pull together on. Do not be one of the dumbfucks who plays into the hands of the right wingers who are *really* behind this idea. Yes, it sucks to be on the same side as Dianne Feinstein... just not as much as being on the same side as Dan Lungren and Sam Walton.

Fuck! This is crazy. Is that *really* you marcos? Fuck!

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 6:38 pm
Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 5:32 am

To restore California to something resembling its pre-European-colonization state? Yes. California was sustaining about the number of humans it could sustain naturally until about the middle of the 19th century.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 19, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

How about returning the Hetch Hetchy valley to the glacier lake it used to be.... no wait - they did that already!!

Who decides which is the "correct" or "desired" snapshot from the past that we attempt to recreate - at great cost to the people and the environment?

As a footnote - I sure will miss Camp Mather when it is closed to the public to be used as the site to store, break up and transfer all that makes up the dam. They figure 5 years in their report - and will Mather come back for San Franciscans use? Can't figure out how it could - it would be gone forever.

Posted by rsher on Aug. 30, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

Hysteria.

Posted by marcos on Aug. 30, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

pristine valley in a national park that should never have been dammed.

Apart from a few people at sFBG, nobody really cares whether power comes from the city or PG&E. As long as the lights go on when you throw a switch, people don't care. i know you care, Tim, but we don't.

Likewise with water which, in that case, is public, but I bet you half the population doesn't know that either.

Electricity can be generated elsewhere and water can be stored downstream. You're being honest that it's about power, but it really shouldn't be. In fact, that's the problem.

I want to vote on this because I want to tear down that dam. It shouldn't be there.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

And the $8-10 billion price tag for this unnecessary project is going to spell the end of this fantasy. Or when you tell them tearing down this damn would require TWO new dams downstream and the displacement of further populations as well as the additional dumping of tens millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere - yeah, you don't want to talk about those facts now do you?

What really matters is that YOU want a prettier hike, now isn't it?

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

we would be living in mud huts.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 6:18 pm

because public everything costs more and is less efficient. And because government would see it as a source of revenue for all their pet pork projects.

Unless you want your power supply to be as unreliable as muni, it's better staying with PG&E, and they can make power downstream - they do it already!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 5:34 am

Actually, rates for Municipal Utilities throughout California are lower than they are for the investor-owned utilities like PG&E. And Public Utilities, like SMUD and Redding are run much more efficiently and with more direct accountability than PG&E, SCE and SDG&E.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 12:26 pm

not a fair comarison with PG&E rates in SF. Plus SF will have higher costs.

Utilities were privatized the world over in the second half of the last century because of a wide acknolwedgment that the government has no businesses running businesses.

It would be ironic if there were an exception for super-capitalist America. Even eastern european quasi-socilaist nations have privatized utilities.

The city should sell SFWater

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

No public power does not cost more.. Check out the electric rates at MID (Modesto Irrigation District)..

I have to agree that building Hetch Hetchy was tragic and should never have been done... But that is water over the damn now... After a century under water I would imagine a good deal of that scenic beauty is gone forever...

and the water supply and power wont be easily replaced... Have you all forgotten the last couple droughts?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

Is it possible that you don't live in the bay area, that you don't depend on that dam for clean drinking water?

You would like to spend a few days wandering around in a lovely valley - every couple of years?

Perhaps you like the crowded spectacle that Yosemite has turned into - so you wish there was another one that could be turned into an equally capitalized tourist destination?

Or perhaps you see the profitable possibilities of selling clean water, or water filtration systems to the thirsty bay area residents? Or an opportunity for selling expensive non-green power to this population?

It is naive to think that so much clean water and clean electricity can be replaced without enormous expenditures and loss to the population that depend on that valley full of water.

So, where are you from?

Posted by rsher on Sep. 09, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

Is it possible that you don't live in the bay area, that you don't depend on that dam for clean drinking water?

You would like to spend a few days wandering around in a lovely valley - every couple of years?

Perhaps you like the crowded spectacle that Yosemite has turned into - so you wish there was another one that could be turned into an equally capitalized tourist destination?

Or perhaps you see the profitable possibilities of selling clean water, or water filtration systems to the thirsty bay area residents? Or an opportunity for selling expensive non-green power to this population?

It is naive to think that so much clean water and clean electricity can be replaced without enormous expenditures and loss to the population that depend on that valley full of water.

So, where are you from?

Posted by rsher on Sep. 09, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

No. Lets talk about water. If anyone tries to steal hetch hetchy water from SF we should just go ahead and tear it down.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

It belongs to the nation and the planet.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 6:17 am

from Tim for a change.

That the city can support itself from alternative sources in the near future is questionable. If the city introduced all forms of opportunism to the energy creating spectrum such as windmills, tide energy, rooftop solar, etc... the "environmentalists" would go insane and would bankrupt the city.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

This initiative has absolutely nothing to do with Rep. Dan Lungren or Republican politics. I has everything to do with restoring a national park and encouraging the voters of San Francisco to do the right thing, which includes a plan for conserving water and recycling water. As for the electricity, there would still be significant electricty generated by the Hetchy Hetchy system, even if the O'Saughnessy dam is drained. I hope that everyone who leans to the left, as well as those in the political middle and, yes, even on the right, realizes that this is a reasonable and progressive initiative that deserves our support.
-From Ron Sundergill - Regional Director of the National Parks Conservation Association

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 8:14 pm

Do you suppose it has nothing to do with Grover Norquist either?

You probably can't imagine how much contempt I have for such facile thinking.

Your organization can't even stop the deleterious effects of "fracking" on national parks and yet you are all over this diabolical plan which will have the net effect of making fracking for natural gas more necessary.

Not really sure what your aim is.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 8:36 pm

I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935) -- and EXCELLENT read and a timeless book -- said "it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

So... "Regional Director," eh?

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

I will beleive this is about restoring parks if it is amended to include tearing down Glen Canyon and Hoover(Boulder) dams.

I will beleive it is about restoring parks if new water supply is also built to provide public power.

I will beleive it is about parks if Hetch Hetcy is left as a wilderness, no roads no stores, no supermarkets no ice rinks. In my opinion the dam saved the valley by preventing the commercialization like Yosemite valley.

Posted by Hayduke on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 11:54 am

Nor, attractive as they are, are they as scenic and stunning.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

I will beleive this is about restoring parks if it is amended to include tearing down Glen Canyon and Hoover(Boulder) dams.

I will beleive it is about restoring parks if part of the program is rebuilding public power that will be lost before destruction of the dam begins.

I will beleive it is about restoring parks if Hetch Hetcy is left as a wilderness, no roads no stores, no supermarkets and no ice rinks. In my opinion the dam saved the valley by preventing it's commercialization like happened in Yosemite valley.

If done, work should be done by American companies, hiring American workers using American supplies. Rebuild America by and for Americans.
WPA 2012

Posted by Hayduke on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

We are drinking the best and safest water in the state! It is brought to us cheaply, with no carbon footprint and no chemical treatment! The power generated is clean.

This water is as essential to San Franciscans as the GG Bridge.

I have an idea: let's tear down the GG Bridge and restore the GG to its pristine pre-car state! We'll always have alternatives to cross to Marin, right?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2012 @ 10:49 am

Is it possible that you don't live in the bay area, that you don't depend on that dam for clean drinking water?

You would like to spend a few days wandering around in a lovely valley - every couple of years?

Perhaps you like the crowded spectacle that Yosemite has turned into - so you wish there was another one that could be turned into an equally capitalized tourist destination?

Or perhaps you see the profitable possibilities of selling clean water, or water filtration systems to the thirsty bay area residents? Or an opportunity for selling expensive non-green power to this population?

It is naive to think that so much clean water and clean electricity can be replaced without enormous expenditures and loss to the population that depend on that valley full of water.

So, where are you from?

Posted by rsher on Sep. 09, 2012 @ 12:10 pm

Where would John Muir stand?

The founder of the Sierra Club would be standing with the right-wing fascists on this one.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2012 @ 8:49 pm

were back then, with cities stealing water left and right. Just look at what LA did to Owens Valley and Mono Lake, only now being undone.

SF did a similar mugging of Hetch Hetchy, and this should be undone at once. If it would be wrong to dam Yosemite Valley, then it must be wrong to leave HH dam in place now.

SF can gets it's water from downstream dams, and it already gets it's power from elsewhere anyway.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

Does anyone remember the blackouts engineered by private entities (including ENRON). This is what happens when all the power is generated by private companies. The GOP hates public systems when they work better than private ones.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2012 @ 10:53 am

"San Fransisco Bay area, including adjacent cities San Jose and Oakland, are 'very likely' to experience a severe crisis as a result of water shortage within the next 50 years."

http://247wallst.com/2010/10/29/the-ten-great-american-cities-that-are-d...

I'd say you go this route at your own peril.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 09, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

36 states in the U.S. are facing water shortages, and there is no backup plan. California has 20 years left, if that, before it is faced with severe shortage in ground water. This is a national & world crisis and no one is even talking about this. You think Obama or Romney have a contingency plan for when our water runs out? Think again.

http://www.alternet.org/story/76819/maude_barlow%3A_the_growing_battle_f...

Posted by Guest on Sep. 09, 2012 @ 3:31 pm