back to court

Today, we filed a Notice of Appeal in the Tuolumne County Superior Court. 

Our appeal will challenge the trial court's April 29 ruling that San Francisco's water system is not subject to California law. 


Restore Hetch Hetchy's technical experts are prepared to testify that the value of a restored valley is greater than the cost of necessary water system improvements, including moving the point of diversion out of Yosemite National Park. First, however, we need to win the right for the California Courts to hear the case. 

We are optimistic that we will prevail at the appellate level. We extensively researched these and other potential legal issues before we filed our case, and we believe the merits are strongly in our favor.

The next steps include:

  • We will work with the Court and our opponents to complete the "record" so that it can be transmitted to the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Fresno. The record will include the transcript of our Jan 29 hearing;
  • Once the record is complete, Restore Hetch Hetchy will be given 40 days to submit an opening brief;
  • San Francisco, and other defendants, will then be given 30 days to submit their "response";
  • Restore Hetch Hetchy will be given 20 days to submit a "reply";
  • Any third parties who want to submit an Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) brief will have 14 days to do so; and 
  • The Court of Appeals will schedule an oral hearing.

Note that the Court of Appeals will hear our case de novo, meaning "without reference to the legal conclusions or assumptions made by the previous court to hear the case. Had we prevailed on these issues in Tuolumne County, San Francisco would likely be the party appealing in Fresno - albeit perhaps later in the process.

Our press release follows.  

Restore Hetch Hetchy Appeals Landmark Case

to Undo Century-Old Historic Mistake & Trial Court Error

Restore Hetch Hetchy challenges San Francisco's evasion of California Law; asks court to consider merits of restoration of "one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples" as nation celebrates Centennial of the National Park Service


Oakland, CA - July 13, 2016 - Restore Hetch Hetchy notified the Tuolumne County Superior Court on July 12th that it is appealing the Court's ruling that prevents California courts from considering the merits of restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park (Case No. CV 59426). The appeal comes on the eve of the Centennial celebrations of the National Park Service, which was created in response to the flooding and damming of the majestic Hetch Hetchy Valley in 1913. 

"San Francisco's water system is not above the laws of California," said Restore Hetch Hetchy Executive Director Spreck Rosekrans. "We expect the appellate court to overturn the lower court's ruling."

 Restore Hetch Hetchy's case alleges that the reservoir that has buried the Hetch Hetchy Valley under 300 feet of water violates the water diversion mandates in the California Constitution. Restore Hetch Hetchy seeks a hearing in the California courts which would weigh the significant value of restoration against the cost of water system improvements necessary for San Francisco to retain its existing Tuolumne River supplies without Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

San Francisco argues that the reservoir is subject only to federal law and not to California law and that any such complaint should have been filed decades ago. On April 28, Judge Kevin Seibert ruled in San Francisco's favor.

"The federal government has no direct stake in San Francisco's system, and Congress specifically required that all elements of the City's water system comply with California law," said Michael Lozeau, chief counsel for Restore Hetch Hetchy.

"The trial court ruling, that the statute of limitations for filing a complaint under the California Constitution has expired, is inconsistent with past court rulings that form the bedrock of State water law," added Richard Frank, co-counsel for Restore Hetch Hetchy. "We don't think it will be upheld on appeal."

The O'Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir have flooded a valley that conservationist John Muir called "one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples." In 1913, the unprecedented debate over building a dam in a national park drew opposition from more than 200 newspapers across the United States. Less than three years later, Congress passed the National Park Service Act, ensuring that no such destruction would ever again be allowed.

"We are on the right side of history by committing to win this important environmental battle, while assuring that San Francisco will retain or improve the reliability of its water system," continued Rosekrans. "On the eve of the Centennial of the National Park Service it is worth noting that no one would consider damming an iconic glacier carved valley in Yosemite National Park today. There is no reason we need to live with this 100 year old mistake."

Citizens who are interested in joining the 100-year old mission to restore Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley can find out more at

Restore Hetch Hetchy's mission is to return the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park National Park to its natural splendor while continuing to meet the water and power needs of all communities that depend on the Tuolumne River.

Media Relations

Elizabeth Johnson, mWEBB Communications, (213) 713-4865,

Melanie Webber, mWEBB Communications, (949) 307-1723,