Ballot Initiative Could Restore Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park

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Hetch Hetchy valley before dam

Hetch Hetchy, before the dam was built

When you hear “Yosemite,” you probably think of Yosemite Valley, with its world-class waterfalls and famous rock formations. But another valley in Yosemite National Park offers scenery just as stunning.

At least, it would, if it weren’t filled with water. In 1923, Hetch Hetchy, known as “Yosemite’s twin,” was dammed to provide drinking water for San Francisco. Today the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir stores 117 billion gallons of alpine water so pure it’s exempt from filtration rules.

But an initiative launched by Restore Hetch Hetchy (RHH) could see the dam destroyed and the valley restored to its natural state. If RHH can secure 7,400 supportive signatures, Californians will vote on a ballot measure to do just that.

John Muir, the patron saint of the preservation movement, was fiercely opposed to the flooding of Hetch Hetchy. “Dam Hetch Hetchy!” he exclaimed. “As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.” Hetch Hetchy was Muir’s last great fight, and one of the few he lost.

Modern San Francisco residents might not consider themselves “devotees of ravaging commercialism” Yosemite National Park Mapwith “a perfect contempt for Nature,” as Muir put it, but many would probably object to draining the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Besides providing water to the Bay Area, the dam generates hydroelectricity that powers buses, light rail, street lighting, and cable cars. From a climate perspective (as opposed to an environmental one), damming Hetch Hetchy might not have been a bad idea.

However, the Reservoir isn’t as essential as many believe. According to RHH,

Hetch Hetchy is only one of nine reservoirs that comprise the San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s water system. Although Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is the most well-known, it stores less than 25% of the system’s water. San Francisco’s water-bank in Don Pedro Reservoir, downstream on the Tuolumne River, holds twice as much water as Hetch Hetchy.

If the dam at Hetch Hetchy were removed, San Francisco would still get water from the Tuolumne River; the water would simply be stored at a different location. So what’s the catch? Mainly the price tag. At up to $10 billion, the project will be a bit unpalatable in a recession. Still, it wouldn’t be unprecedented–hundreds of dams have been torn down in the U.S. over the last fifteen years.

Restoring nearly a century of damage to the Hetch Hetchy valley would be an intensely interesting challenge in itself. Even RHH calls it “the most ambitious and audacious act of environmental preservation in our history.” Yet a restored Hetch Hetchy would attract tourists and their money, helping to relieve the overcrowded Yosemite Valley.

This is a multi-sided issue, one that could potentially pit climate hawks against environmental preservationists. Certainly it will divide the famously green and progressive San Francisco.

What do you think?

 

Learn more: The GuardianRestore Hetch Hetchy

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Prop 23 is Officially Dead – CA Voters Defeat Big Oil

If you watched the election last night, you know that Republicans swept the House, effectively cancelling the clean energy agenda for the time being. But in California, voters soundly defeated Proposition 23.

From Climate Progress:

California is the only place in the country where climate and clean energy activists aggressively pushed their message across the board in the face of strong, well-funded opposition by Big Oil….

Proposition 23 — “the first and largest public referendum in history on clean energy policy” — brought together an amazing bipartisan coalition to beat back Texas oil companies’ effort to kill California’s landmark climate bill, AB32.

If you aren’t up-to-date on your referendums, you can read the background on Prop 23 here.

We should not overlook the importance of the Prop 23 results, as they are a historic victory for voters over Big Oil. More of my thoughts on the election later (because I know the Internet is just dying to hear them ^_^).

 

California Adopts U.S.’s First Mandatory Green Building Code

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

This month, California adopted the nation’s first statewide green building codes.  Dubbed “Calgreen,” these codes are expected to help the state achieve its goal of cutting CO2 emissions by one third by 2020.  According to the New York Times, every new building in California will have to “reduce water usage by 20 percent and recycle 50 percent of its construction waste instead of sending it to landfills… Mandatory inspections of air conditioner, heat and mechanical equipment will be also be instituted for all commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet.”

To help offset the increased construction costs, developers will not have to receive certification from third parties like the U.S. Green Building Council.  The price of a new home will still increase, but since many of the standards save money as well as energy, the codes may result in an overall savings.  They will definitely produce a net drop in carbon pollution — about three million metric tons by 2020.

That California was the first state to adopt these codes isn’t surprising.  Hopefully, they will prove successful, and other states will follow suit.  Since buildings account for a large amount of our energy use, increasing their efficiency is just common sense.