"Two Grand Valleys" and Senator Feinstein

"Two Grand Valleys" and Senator Feinstein


Senator Feinstein may be our nemesis, but she sends us a pleasant holiday card every year.

We haven't talked much lately about Senator Feinstein, who has been vocally and forcefully opposed to restoration for the past 30 years. Her views, however, were prominently featured this week in "Yosemite Once Had Two Grand Valleys" (Unofficial Networks, a partner of USA Today) without any input from us or other restoration advocates. I thought I would take the opportunity to offer our perspective on the Senator's statement.

They say that any press is good press. The article does seem to have had wide distribution, and it is always nice when more people learn about Hetch Hetchy. The (unfortunately anonymous) author is clearly sympathetic to restoration. That's the good part.

The author is rather misinformed, saying the Sierra Club is taking the lead on restoration. As you may know, the Sierra Club supports restoration, but has no active involvement. In fact, its lack of action is why Restore Hetch Hetchy was created in the first place.

But it wasn't the article itself that prompted me to respond. It was the verbatim inclusion of Senator Feinstein's 2005 statement on restoration, which includes unwarranted hyperbole and substantial double counting. A few examples: 

  • "Draining the reservoir would be far too expensive and leave the State vulnerable to both drought and blackout." It seems fair for an opponent to complain about either water and power reliability or cost, but not both. Doing so is the very essence of double counting. The point of the expense is ensure that there is no loss of water supply or hydropower production. Note also that Restore Hetch Hetchy has tried for more than a decade to have a real discussion about "cost", something San Francisco continues to dodge.
  •  "Any restoration plan would require... increased local storage ..., purchase of water in critically dry years..., and compensation to Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts for storage in the Don Pedro Reservoir". Any one of these items could fully replace the water supply function of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, as could a significant recycling program in the Bay Area or groundwater banking in the Central Valley. Doing all of them might be a good idea, but that would provide San Francisco and its customers with much more water, on average and in dry years, than they have today. 
  • "Hetch Hetchy also provides 400 megawatts of power"San Francisco operates three powerplants in the Tuolumne watershed. Holm, on Cherry Creek, and Moccasin, near Don Pedro Reservoir, would be little affected. Only the Kirkwood plant would be unable to operate as usual, and even it might be still be usable much of the year. The loss of hydropower would generally be about 40 megawatts in summer and fall. The cost of fully replacing the lost hydropower with solar power is included in our analyses and legal filings. There need not be any loss of reliability or increased air pollution.
  • "The Hetch Hetchy system also provides an important flood control function for the City of Modesto". There is presently no flood control requirement at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. San Francisco invested in Don Pedro Reservoir in 1970 for two reasons: (1) to develop a 570,000 acre-foot water bank (Hetch Hetchy holds only 360,000 acre-feet), and (2) to eliminate the flood control requirement at Hetch Hetchy and move it to Don Pedro - which has a 340,000 acre-foot flood control requirement.

When I worked for the Environmental Defense Fund in 2004, we published "Paradise Regained: Solutions for Restoring Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley". We reached out to Senator Feinstein and provided her staff a preview of our findings. We asked for a discussion, but it never happened.


Then Mayor Dianne Feinstein was open minded about restoration for a very short period of time after Interior Secretary Don Hodel proposed restoration in 1987. Soon thereafter, however, she declared Hetch Hetchy to be San Francisco's "birthright" and restoration to be the worst idea since "selling arms to the Ayatollah". Senator Feinstein does, however, keep a painting of the undammed valley above her desk.

Largely in response to the political influence of Senator Feinstein and others representing San Francisco's interests, we have decided to pursue a litigation strategy. We believe the California courts should provide a more level playing field where the value of restoration can be compared to the cost of making it possible.