Our adversaries, for now anyway

Restore Hetch Hetchy's Adversaries

Who runs these water agencies?


The restoration of Mono Lake was once opposed by Los Angeles. Attitudes have changed. When will San Francisco come around on Hetch Hetchy? 

We look forward to the day when Hetch Hetchy Valley is returned to Yosemite National Park. We also believe that San Francisco will eventually support restoration, just as Los Angeles has done at Mono Lake.

Presently, however, San Francisco and other communities which depend on the Tuolumne River for water supply are opposed to our campaign for restoration. While San Francisco is our chief adversary, our legal petition names three other parties as "Real Parties in Interest and Defendants". They are:

  • The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency - San Francisco's "suburban" customers,
  • The Turlock Irrigation District, and
  • The Modesto Irrigation District.

These agencies are (almost entirely) public, with leadership selected in a variety of ways.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is run by a five member board. Members are appointed by San Francisco's Mayor and confirmed by its Board of Supervisors. To ensure that a variety of interests are represented, four of the five Commission seats are filled by appointees with specific experience, including :

  • Environmental Justice
  • Ratepayer or consumer advocacy
  • Finance
  • Water systems or utilities

Figure 1: Water agencies which rely on the Tuolumne River

The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) represents San Francisco's wholesale customers, including 24 cities and water districts, Stanford University and the private California Water Service Company. Collectively, BAWSCA members use 2/3 of the water San Francisco brings to the Bay Area.

Most of BAWSCA's 26 board members are selected by their own city council. BAWSCA tends to operate with impressive unanimity, but has decision-making procedures in place should the need arise.

When Congress passed the Raker Act allowing San Francisco to construct facilities in Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest, San Francisco asked Oakland and other East Bay cities if they wanted to take part in the investment. Oakland, Berkeley and other communities declined, formed the East Bay Municipal Utility District and built their own project to store and convey water supply from the Mokelumne River. EBMUD board members, in contrast to their counterparts at the SFPUC and BAWSCA, are directly elected by the public and arguably more directly responsive to the public as well. 

The Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts are the oldest irrigation districts in California, dating back to 1887. Together, they use four times as much Tuolumne River water as San Francisco's system. The Districts were initially opposed to the Raker Act, fearing impact to their own water supply, but their concerns were ameliorated by protections built into the law. 


This sign in downtown Modesto extols the importance of water to the community.

Boardmembers of both TID and MID are elected by citizens who live within the districts' boundaries. From a financial perspective, the term "irrigation" district would seem to be a misnomer. Both receive less than 5% of their revenue from the sale of irrigation water; most revenue comes from the sale of electricity. 

A recent lawsuit filed in Modesto charges that power users unfairly subsidize water users. The proponents argue water rates should increase and electric rates should decrease. Even if the suit is successful, it seems likely that water, not power, will continue to drive politics within the districts.


It is important to note that none of these communities are monolithic; many citizens within each support the restoration of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley. Even some staff at the various water agencies support restoration, although they do not tend to advertise those views while they are on the job.

Years ago, Restore Hetch Hetchy adopted our mission statement: 

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

We take this statement seriously. We would prefer to be working cooperatively with the SFPUC, BAWSCA, TID and MID rather than challenging them in court. These agencies, however, do not at this time share our vision of restoring Hetch Hetchy and making Yosemite National Park whole once again. For now they are our adversaries.

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