So there’s been a bit of a minor, text-based tussle on an environmental issue in California.

The culprit? Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. A valley just north of Yosemite – described in its prior state as being a close rival to its neighbor’s beauty – dammed by San Francisco for drinking water and hydroelectricity.

It’s not surprising that our little fledgling outdoor blogger community has differing opinions on the matter. People have been arguing vehemently on both sides since the project was first proposed in 1906.

Tom at Two-Heel Drive brought up the issue after learning the Bush Administration budgeted a few million dollars to study the feasibility of removing the O’Shaughnessy Dam, which currently creates an 8 mile long reservoir inside Yosemite National Park.

Tom questioned the move, saying the removal of a major source of water and electricity would just require the addition of a dam somewhere else. As for hiking, he said the place is still beautiful (and rarely traveled) with the lake, and mentioned the removal of the dam would most likely make the area inaccessible for many years.

Climb_CA at the GetOutdoors Blog wrote of another blogger’s gentlemanly disagreement, and added his own two cents, as well. They’d rather have the valley back and correct the mistakes of our ancestors, even if it means the next generation would be the first to be able to enjoy it again.

The commenters on National Parks Traveler were quick to add points for both sides, too, as did the San Francisco Gate.

Personally, I think this is more of a political wedge issue for California Democrats and environmentalists in general. The fact that an administration as openly anti-environment as this one is throwing such a large sum of money at a cause near-and-dear to green hearts should raise some eyebrows.

Earlier in the week, Ranger X dissected the so-called “increase in park funds,” calling it nothing more than a budgeting shell game. And other bloggers noted the irony of prominent Republicans – like former Sec. of the Interior Don Hodel under Pres. Reagan and current California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – being on the pro-environment side against overwhelmingly Democratic San Francisco.

Is this just another example of Bush emulating Reagan’s tactics? An article from current Sierra Club President Carl Pope on the original matter in 1987 sounds like it could easily be applied to today’s debate.

Because really, what better way to rip seams in the strengthening environmental movement than to have the Beacon City of Liberalism fight to protect a valley-drowning dam in the middle of a National Park?

Interestingly enough, the study commissioned by Gov. Schwarzenegger (who I’m oddly less cynical about for some reason) found that it is indeed possible for San Fransisco to get its water and electricity from other sources. It would, of course, come at a very substantial cost to the State of California, ranging from anywhere between two and ten billion dollars.

I can’t imagine any politician – even in California – making a ten billion dollar cost seem palatable to voters. Especially when the majority of them don’t even know where Hetch Hetchy is, let alone what it used to be. But with dams coming down all over the country, and the potential of grassland on the valley within two years and near-complete vegetation cover within fifty, maybe it is worth doing.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t be fast, but what great accomplishment ever is?

EDIT:
Jerry is correct in pointing out that big projects like this usually get a nice chunk of change from the Federal Government, and the costs are often reduced by donations from private individuals. So the final cost to Californians will indeed likely be a fraction of that estimate, if it ever goes through. But you can bet when election season rolls around, whatever number’s the higher one is going to be the one you hear in attack ads.

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