Top 10 Worst Environmental Decisions in California’s History


Top 10 Worst Environmental Decisions in California’s History

The destruction of Hetch Hetchy is reversible


Pollution from hydraulic strip mining at Malakoff Diggins in 1882 led to a landmark legal decision to protect the environment and communities downstream - often considered California's first environmental law.


Last week, Professor Ethan Elkind (Director of the Climate Change and Business Program at Berkeley Law) posted a list of the top 10 environmental decisions in California history:

·     Quarrying Morro Rock.

·     Draining the Owens Valley and Mono Lake.

·     Channelizing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta.

·     Clear-Cutting the Sierra and Lake Tahoe Pine Forests.

·     The Los Angeles Freeway Embrace.

·     Damming Hetch Hetchy Valley.

·     Logging Giant Sequoias.

·     Wetlands Destruction.

·     Clear-Cutting Old-Growth Coastal Redwoods.

·     Hydraulic gold mining.

It's an interesting list. As one of the commenters points out, however, Hetch Hetchy stands out as it was a deliberate decision. Most of the others were long-term trends.

It's also easy to take a nuanced view of much of the list. Los Angeles could have been developed with better urban planning, including more public transportation and fewer freeways. It's hard to imagine living in California without logging, but we wish we had done it better and had saved more old-growth redwood trees than we have. And we would not be growing nearly as much food in the without channelizing the Delta and destroying wetlands in the Central Valley.

Tulare Lake (artist's rendition and painting by Laura Cunningham shown above) was once the largest lake in the U.S. west of St. Louis. It was formed by the Kern, Kaweah and Kings Rivers, and would only spill over into the San Joaquin flow and out to sea in wet years. Most of the Central Valley's wetlands were sacrificed for agriculture but those that remain are wonderful to visit and seldom crowded.

There's another thing about Hetch Hetchy that distinguishes it from most of the other items on the list. The flooding of Hetch Hetchy Valley is reversible. We know the valley will come back when the reservoir is emptied.

It's time to hold San Francisco, the reservoir's owners, accountable and require the City to store that water outside Yosemite National Park. San Francisco has had Hetch Hetchy to itself for a century - it is time to give it back for all to enjoy.