Hetch Hetchy: Many things to many people

We think of Hetch Hetchy as a wondrous glacier-carved valley in Yosemite National Park that now lies beneath 300 feet of water behind the O'Shaughnessy Dam.

John Muir called the valley the "Tuolumne Yosemite" but also reported that the term Hetch Hetchy was derived from the Miwok language:

"I have been informed by mountaineers who know something of the Indian language that Hetch Hetchy is the name of a species of grass that the Tuolumne Indians used for food, and which grows on the meadow at the lower end of the valley. The grain, when ripe, was gathered and beaten out and pounded into meal in mortars."   (Sanchez: Spanish and Indian Place Names of California, 1922)


English spellings for the Miwok word include "Hatchatchie" and "hetchetci". Some believe it refers to Dichelostemma capitatum, commonly known as "blue dicks".

San Francisco has defined not only the water behind the dam as "Hetch Hetchy Reservoir", but has also named their entire network of pipelines, reservoirs etc. as the "Hetch Hetchy Water System" - even though it stores water in eight other reservoirs. The City even describes the water it provides to customers as "Hetch Hetchy water".

For many in the conservation community, however, "Hetch Hetchy" refers to the epic battle over building a dam in Yosemite National Park which culminated 1913. Ultimately San Francisco was allowed to build the dam - but only after unprecedented controversy and days of intense debate in both houses of the U.S. Congress. The nationwide debate and subsequent legislation in 1916 to create a National Park Service helped to ensure that such destruction would never again occur in any of America's national parks.


Robert Redford

Actor Robert Redford describes the battle as "the defining struggle of the conservation movement". Historian Robert Righter describes it as "America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism". Author Ken Brower simply says it was a "Great American Mistake".

Restore Hetch Hetchy agrees with these historic characterizations - but we focus on the future - and the opportunity to restore this wonder of nature. We take seriously the need to meet the water and power needs of not just San Francisco, but all communities that rely on the Tuolumne River, before restoration proceeds. We know it can be done.

We regret that officials in San Francisco and other communities do not share this positive vision of making Yosemite National Park whole once again. We would prefer to work cooperatively on a solution, but we have been forced to take San Francisco to court - where we have filed litigation alleging that the ongoing operation of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir violates the water diversion mandates of the California Constitution. 

We look forward to an evidentiary hearing where our experts will demonstrate that Hetch Hetchy is worth more as valley than as a reservoir and that restoration can be accomplished without anyone losing a drop of water.

We continue to need additional financial support to see this case to its conclusion. Contributions up to $60,000 made through January 31, 2016 will be matched by the Restore Hetch Hetchy Board of Directors. If you would like to invest in the future of Yosemite, but have not had the opportunity to make a contribution, please consider doing so now.

It is time to return Hetch Hetchy to the American people.