Schwarzenegger Administration Says Restoration Feasible

July 19, 2006
Contact: 

Contact: Jennifer Witherspoon, Environmental Defense Communications, 510-457-2250

(July 19, 2006, CA) The Schwarzenegger Administration released its findings that confirm what restoration advocates have been saying for years—it is feasible to restore Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. The Governor's administration spent the past 20 months considering extensive studies by Environmental Defense, U.C. Davis and Restore Hetch Hetchy that assert that it is not necessary to use a glacially-carved wonder in one of America's premiere national parks to supply reliable water and power to California residents.

"We are pleased that Governor Schwarzenegger has taken our restoration proposal seriously," said Tom Graff, Environmental Defense California regional director. "We are on course to correct a terrible environmental tragedy," continued Graff. "In the 21st century we have better solutions for water storage and power supply. If we don't have to use one of America's spectacular natural cathedrals as a reservoir, we shouldn't."

Late in 2004, California Assembly members Lois Wolk and Joe Canciamilla called upon Governor Schwarzenegger to consider restoration of the once magnificent valley in Yosemite National Park. The Governor committed his agencies to review studies conducted over the past 20 years and they have now concluded that there are alternatives to provide water and power to Northern California from the Tuolumne River and other sources without the use of a national treasure as a reservoir.

John Muir, the great American conservationist, called Hetch Hetchy Valley "one of God's best gifts" that "ought to be faithfully guarded." Muir identified Hetch Hetchy as a "near-exact counterpart" to Yosemite Valley for its striking rock faces similar to El Capitan and Half Dome and waterfalls similar to Bridal Veil and Yosemite Falls. These picturesque features ensured Hetch Hetchy's protection as part of Yosemite National Park but after a bitter environmental battle it was dammed and flooded in the 1920s to supply water and hydropower to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Environmental Defense released its own feasibility study, Paradise Regained: Solutions for Restoring Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley, in September of 2004 which concluded that San Francisco could continue to receive the majority of its drinking water and hydropower generation from the Tuolumne River by using Eleanor, Cherry and Don Pedro reservoirs also located on the Tuolumne River. A new pipe or "intertie" connecting the City's water delivery aqueduct to either Cherry Reservoir or Don Pedro reservoir would be required, as would additional water filtration. The group estimated that the total cost for replacing water supply and hydropower production would be less than $2 billion.

The State's review considered adding new dams to California's water system under all its restoration scenarios, even though Environmental Defense's analysis has shown that other options are likely to be less costly for replacing the supplies now held in Hetch Hetchy Valley. "We modeled the entire Tuolumne River and Bay Area System and found that 95% of the water supplied today would still be available from the river's natural flow and the system's other eight reservoirs if Hetch Hetchy Valley is restored," said Spreck Rosekrans, a senior water analyst with Environmental Defense. "The remaining 5% could be replaced economically with groundwater development or transfers, practices that are commonly used by urban agencies throughout California today."

The State confirmed that Environmental Defense used accurate methodologies to estimate the costs of water and power replacement. The State's alternatives, however, rely not only on expensive dams but would also replace far more water than would be lost, causing its cost estimates to be well above those estimated by Environmental Defense. "What is a second Yosemite worth?” said David Yarnold, executive vice president of Environmental Defense. "Each year millions of Americans travel to the national park to be inspired by nature's grandeur. Now we have the opportunity of a lifetime to restore a second Yosemite Valley, that's priceless."

The review released by the State today may indicate that the benefits to Californians of a restored valley is in the range of six billion and it is expected to propose a series of new studies for any unanswered questions. The State did consider ways to restore the valley, including breaching the dam and reseeding the valley floor. "Restoration experts have determined that within decades Hetch Hetchy Valley will begin to resemble its former grandeur," said Ann Hayden a water resource analyst with Environmental Defense. "If the valley is drained then students, park volunteers and restoration scientists from around the world will have the opportunity to be involved in one of the most exciting restoration projects of all time."

"Besides the inherent value in restoring such a magnificent national treasure, restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley could serve as inspiration to many people around the world," said Mary Kelly, Land, Water and Wildlife program manager of Environmental Defense. "It is possible to restore vital natural areas and we look forward to working with California's leaders on this bold and inspiring effort."

For more information about the historic restoration proposal, please visit www.discoverhetchhetchy.org to take an interactive tour of the valley as John Muir once described it, to watch a preview or our award-winning film, Discover Hetch Hetchy, or to download our full feasibility study, Paradise Regained.