The legacy of Hetch Hetchy's destruction looms large in Yosemite National Park and the history of the conservation movement in the United States.
While Hetch Hetchy Reservoir may be near and dear to the hearts of officials in San Francisco, it is hardly significant in the broad California water picture.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is a water tank - not a source of supply. Storage and supply are related of course, and it is incumbent on Restore Hetch Hetchy to convince the California courts that San Francisco can improve its water system so Tuolumne River flows can be captured downstream of Yosemite, without losing a drop of water supply.
As we have been enjoying early season storms, the very real California water wars are being waged in the halls of Congress. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate have introduced competing versions of "Drought Legislation". One of the key differences between the two versions is how much water can be exported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta Estuary.
The House version would increase exports from the pumps located in the south Delta and deliver additional supply to San Joaquin Valley farms and urban water agencies in both northern and southern California. The Senate version would invest in water storage and other projects, but would leave the existing rules for pumping from the Delta, including the application of the Endangered Species Act, alone. After a bitter fight, the Drought Bill has been declared dead for 2015, but is likely to return next year.
Figure 1, below, provides a summary of how diversions in the Delta watershed have increased over time, employing a 10-year running average to emphasize long term trends and while masking the distracting effects of droughts and wet years. As the chart shows, diversions of the Delta's natural inflow for human use has increased in recent decades, especially at the export pumps in the south Delta. As diversions have increased, Delta outflow (shown as a blue line) has decreased.
Increased diversions upstream of, within and from the Delta have altered the hydrologic and biological function of this largest estuary on the west cost of the Americas.
Export water agencies point out that factors other than the diversion of freshwater have affected the Delta's health - that the loss of habitat, invasive species and pollution have contributed significantly to the decline of its fisheries.
San Francisco's system, which includes Hetch Hetchy and other reservoirs, is in the Tuolumne watershed - part of the San Joaquin Basin. Its diversions are shown as a very thin purple line in Figure 1 - almost too small to be seen.
Restore Hetch Hetchy understands that Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is an important part of San Francisco's water system. But we are also convinced, as multiple studies have shown that the reservoir can be replaced so that Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park can be restored without losing a drop of water supply.
San Francisco has refused to consider restoration, so we have been forced to pursue restoration in the California courts. We won the first round, but still need to get past legal challenges so we can present evidence that Hetch Hetchy is worth more as a valley than as a reservoir.
We will need additional funding to see our case to its conclusion. To that end, the Restore Hetch Hetchy Board of Directors has issued a $120,000 challenge match - it will match up to $60,000 for all contributions through January 31.
If you agree that Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy is worth more as a valley than as a reservoir, there is no better or more important time than now to contribute to its restoration.