Business as usual - SF Chronicle editorial staff like status quo at Hetch Hetchy

After Thoughtful and Balanced News Story,

San Francisco Chronicle Editors Retreat to Familiar Ground


Editorial: "The latest plan to drain the Hetch Hetchy water system doesn’t add up."


The editorial department at the San Francisco Chronicle weighed in after last week's excellent and somewhat sympathetic article on the potential value of restoring Yosemite National Park's Hetch Hetchy Valley. Titled "The latest plan to drain the Hetch Hetchy water system doesn’t add up", today's editorial is consistent with previous positions the paper has taken.

Obviously, Restore Hetch Hetchy disagrees

For starters, let's note that no one has proposed draining the "system". The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission stores water in nine reservoirs. We have suggested only one be emptied. Why does the editorial choose to confuse Hetch Hetchy Reservoir with the entire "system"?


And Restore Hetch Hetchy has always insisted that improvements be made so that not one drop of water supply is lost.

Let's also note that the report, "Valuing Hetch Hetchy Valley: Economic Benefits of Restoration in Yosemite National Park" is not a "plan" and was never purported to be. The report itself makes clear that it does not address the system improvements that would be necessary and, even on the value side, recommends "a more detailed and extensive national survey, independently administered with collaborative and broad participation from government and stakeholders".

Rather than examine the report on its merits ...

...the Chronicle editors seem inclined to nip any discussion of restoration in the bud, as they have done in the past.

The editorial does make a few concessions. It queries "Who wouldn’t want another Yosemite Valley a few miles from the ultra-crowded one?", and further acknowledges "It’s certainly true that such a project would be difficult, if not impossible, to enact today."


Egregiously, the editorial characterizes Restore Hetch Hetchy as "starry-eyed", and reminded readers that Mayor Ed Lee called restoration "insane". We are provocative and ambitious, but we are absolutely practical. We understand every drop of water and every kilowatt of power needs replacement. The staff at the SFPUC understand this and generally respect us - even if most do not support our goal (some do, albeit quietly). A handful of politicians and a few in the media, however, prefer to brand us with hyperbole.

The editorial also opined that the report's comparison of Hetch Hetchy to various dam projects was unwarranted. It claimed the dams on the Klamath that are scheduled for removal are "outmoded", even though they produce twice as much hydropower as will be lost when Hetch Hetchy is restored. The editorial did not address steps taken by Los Angeles to restore Mono Lake - something once fiercely opposed by the City of Angels and now held up as a point of civic pride.

We think someday San Francisco will come around on Hetch Hetchy as Los Angeles has on Mono Lake. We are currently working, in-house and with expert assistance, on updated analysis of the water system improvements that could make Hetch Hetchy's restoration possible. When that is complete, we will give the Chronicle editorial board another chance to consider our campaign.

Meanwhile, note the Chronicle has a strong and consistent record of supporting aquatic restoration projects in California - at least those that do not affect San Francisco. Here are a few examples:

Mono Lake

The Chronicle called Mono Lake “a splendid ecosystem”, concluding that “Every measure possible should be taken to restore this California treasure.”, even though restoration would limit the amount of water diverted to the “ever thirsty city of Angels” and noting that restoration can be accomplished by “refusing to bow to the greedy demands of Los Angelenos for water”. (September 22, 1994)


The Chronicle has consistently supported restoration of fisheries and wetlands in the Central Valley and Bay Delta, including the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (1992). Citing “salmon, striped bass and other fish had been devastated by the series of dams, canals and reservoirs built by the federal government in the 1930s and 1940s”, the Chronicle specifically supported reallocating 800,000 acre-feet of water (more than twice the volume of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir) to support fisheries rather than send it to Central Valley farmers. (January 3, 1996 and November 20, 1997)

Trinity River

The Chronicle has also supported restoration of the Trinity River in northern California, describing it as a “shadow of its free-flowing self” where “Salmon and steelhead stocks have plummeted to a tenth of pre-dam size, harming both the fishing industry and two Indian tribes”. The Chronicle called the diversions from the river to generate hydropower and provide water for agriculture “no small water grab”. (November 27, 2000)

Klamath River

The Chronicle has supported the removal of four hydropower dams on the Klamath River in an effort to restore salmon populations. The editorial’s title urges that we “Take down the dams”, noting that “an amazing change is suddenly attainable” and that “A river's past could be restored.” (February 6, 2007)

But when it comes to the Tuolumne River and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (the only such facility ever built in a national park), the Chronicle has a decidedly negative view. One has to ask why.

Is restoring Yosemite National Park not as important or valuable as efforts to restore bird habitat at Mono Lake, or salmon and smelt populations in the Bay-Delta and on north coast rivers? If that is the Chronicle’s view, it should so opine.

Is Hetch Hetchy Reservoir such an indispensable part of supplying water for San Francisco and other Bay Area cities? Seems unlikely. By any stretch of imagination, the required water supply replacement would be far less than that required as a result of water export reductions in the Bay-Delta or on the Trinity River.

Is it the hydropower? Hydropower on the Tuolumne River, to be replaced with renewable resources, would be about what was lost when the Trinity River Plan went into effect and a fraction of what will be lost when the Klamath Dams are removed.

So are the Chronicle’s views of the potential to restore Hetch Hetchy based on the merits? Or is there a double standard at play?