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Hetch Hetchy demolition measure defeated in San Francisco

November 7, 2012 |  8:51 am

A rainbow forms over Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite in May. Credit: John Holland /  Modesto Bee.

Opponents Wednesday celebrated the defeat of a controversial San Francisco measure that would have required the city to craft an $8-million plan to demolish the dam that created the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite and find alternate sources of hydropower and water storage.

The Sierra reservoir provides water for 2.6-million area residents. It was formed after the 1913 passage of the Raker Act, inundating a valley that John Muir called "one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples."

Backed by a number of environmental groups, the measure was widely opposed by elected officials here. Dianne Feinstein, California's senior U.S. senator and a former San Francisco mayor, said demolishing O'Shaughnessy Dam "makes no sense."

Mayor Edwin Lee called the idea "stupid" and "insane." The Board of Supervisors also opposed it, and the Bay Area Council, the region's leading business group, headed the costly campaign to defeat it.

On Tuesday, more than 77% of voters did just that. The measure, Bay Area Council president and Chief Executive Jim Wunderman said in a statement, “didn’t hold water.”

“This was a vote for common sense,” he said, calling the dam “one of the Bay Area’s most important sources of clean drinking water and clean power…. At a time when we are more vulnerable to drought, when demand for water statewide is growing, when we’re working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, [the measure] represented a huge step backward for our region and for California.”

Proponents spun the defeat as a victory, noting that more than 50,000 San Franciscans — though casting fewer than 23% of total ballots — had voted yes.

The Yosemite Restoration Campaign, which crafted the initiative, said in a statement that while the measure did not prevail, it “achieved many of the goals it set out to accomplish, including inspiring San Franciscans to imagine a different future — one that would increase their water security and begin to reverse the damage the city has done to Yosemite National Park and the Tuolumne River.”

“Today was a beginning, not an end,” the group wrote. “We will spend the next two years leveraging and expanding this base of support to advance the cause of water reform in San Francisco and environmental restoration in Yosemite.”


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Photo: A rainbow forms over Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite in May. Credit: John Holland /  Modesto Bee.