Why is a 13 year-old girl holding a Restore Hetch Hetchy banner in the middle of the Grand Canyon?

The nationwide outcry over the 1913 Raker Act led directly to the passage of the National Park Service (Organic) Act three years later - an act intending to ensure national parks were managed for national, not local, benefit. The Organic Act discouraged but did not explicitly ban building dams in national parks, and attempts to build dams in Yellowstone in the 1930's were stopped.

 

 footing_720.jpg

Former board member Drew Goetting and his 13 year-old daughter Haley proudly display a Restore Hetch Hetchy banner at the Mile 39 "test pit" where the Bureau of Reclamation wanted to dam the Grand Canyon. 

 Haley kayaked the Colorado River and its legendary rapids - a feat rarely accomplished by one so young. People who have floated through the Grand Canyon often describe it as "the trip of a lifetime", but such a trip is only possible because plans to dam the canyon were stopped by advocates. 

 (btw, Haley is looking forward to exploring a restored Hetch Hetchy Valley.)

In the 1960's, the Bureau of Reclamation pushed forward with efforts to build two dams in the Grand Canyon. Technically the dams would not be within Grand Canyon National Park as defined by its boundaries at the time, but the dams would have greatly diminished the National Park, the Grand Canyon (broadly defined), and the Colorado River within it. 

The plan was to build a small dam at Marble Canyon, just upstream of the National Park boundary, then convey most of the Colorado's flow through a tunnel where it would then generate hydropower. A second larger dam, downstream at Bridge Canyon, would also provide hydropower generation and would have created a lake burying 53 miles of the Colorado River. Clearly, had this project been built, a Grand Canyon river trip would not be possible today.

 map_of_dams_720.png

"Lakes" Mead and Powell together hold almost four  times the Colorado's annual flow, so evaporation from any additional reservoirs would have diminished any possible incremental water supply benefit.

Conservationists, led by river runner Martin Litton and Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower, were determined to stop the dams. Brower took out provocative advertisements in the Washington Post and New York Times, prompting the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether the Sierra Club's advocacy constituted lobbying and its tax-exempt status should be revoked.

 sierra_club.png

After leaving the Sierra Club, David Brower (center front) founded Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute. When Sierra Club volunteer Ron Good told Brower that he was frustrated that the Sierra Club supported restoring Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley but was not committed to taking any action, Brower told him to start his own organization. Ron took Brower's advice and Restore Hetch Hetchy was born.

 ron_ford_720_on_dam.jpg

Ron Good, Restore Hetchy's Founder and first Executive Director, with actor Harrison Ford.

 page_2b_grand_canyon_alternate_ingrid_1.JPG

If the Grand Canyon dams had not been stopped, there would be no river trips. 

(Photo: Ingrid Pfister)

We are pleased that the lessons learned from the 1913 decision to allow a dam in Yosemite helped to stop dams in Yellowstone and Grand Canyon and have encouraged citizen action in so many other ways. That is not, however, good enough. The lessons learned from the Hetch Hetchy debacle will be even more valuable once the valley is restored. And, of course, Drew, Haley and future generations will be able to revel in all of Yosemite's delights.