Upstream, downstream on the Tuolumne River (part 2 of 3)

State Water Board Tuolumne River Proposal (part 2 of 3)

Other water agencies have contributed to environmental restoration

It's useful to compare the State Water Board's proposal to increase flow on the lower Tuolumne River with our campaign to restore Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. The two efforts involve the same river and the same water delivery agencies. The environmental objectives, however, are different.  


Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy - not the right place for a dam and reservoir

We seek to restore an iconic glacier-carved valley in Yosemite National Park. The State Water Board's objective, on the other hand, is to help devastated fish populations recover by better balancing the distribution of water between cities, farms and the environment.

Restore Hetch Hetchy is not directly involved in this ongoing battle over how much freshwater should flow into the Bay-Delta. We are only observers, albeit keenly interested observers. There may be important links between what happens downstream and what happens upstream.

Both issues present challenges to water agencies. Restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley, however, is not inherently about water supply, but only about storage. We intend to show that the valley can be restored and the water stored downstream, outside of Yosemite National Park. Neither San Francisco nor any other community need reduce its use of water.

Increasing inflow to the Bay-Delta brings different challenges to water agencies. For the most part, cities and farms will need to find ways to make do with less water and/or find new supplies. (An appendix to the State Water Board proposal examines some alternatives for San Francisco.)

In some cases, solutions that help San Francisco provide additional water to the Bay-Delta might also help to make restoration of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley possible. In other cases, solutions might be independent. In any event, the State Water Board understands that cities and farms can reduce their impact on the environment by changing how they procure and manage water. 


More than 90% of Central Valley wetlands disappeared in the 20th Century. The 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act has provided additional water to restore some of this lost habitat. 

Photo Kit Tyler (KQED)

After all, over the past few decades, substantial additional supplies of fresh water have been provided to Mono Lake, Central Valley wetlands, the Trinity River and outflow from the Bay-Delta. None of these changes have been easy and some are still being fought by the affected water delivery agencies. It is indeed possible, however, to make changes when it is in the public interest to do so. 

In an editorial opinion in last Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, Harlan Kelly and Nicole Sandkulla, respective leaders of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, opined "this proposal means we would have to fundamentally rethink where we get our water in drought years". They are right - that is exactly what the State Water Board is asking them  to do. We encourage them to roll up their sleeves, and to think outside the box. Others have done so successfully.

And while they are thinking outside the box, we ask Mr. Kelly and Ms. Sandkulla to also consider how they can deliver Tuolumne River water to the Bay Area without storing it in Hetch Hetchy. No other city has destroyed a significant part of a national park. It is time for San Francisco and its Bay Area customers to give Hetch Hetchy back to Yosemite National Park and the American people.