Saturday, December 21, 2013

100th anniversary of the Raker Act

Over at Legal Planet, Richard Frank writes:
December 19th marks a sad event in American environmental history.  It was 100 years ago today that President Woodrow Wilson signed the Raker Act, authorizing the City of San Francisco to build a dam that would flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park in order to deliver water supplies to San Francisco.
Albert Bierstadt, Hetch Hetchy Canyon (1875)
Contemporary accounts–including those of John Muir–attest to the stunning beauty of the Hetch Hetchy Valley. (Muir wrote: “Hetch Hetchy Valley is a grand landscape garden, one of Nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples.”)  In its natural state, Hetch Hetchy was considered an ecological twin of the world-renown Yosemite Valley that lies, relatively undisturbed, a few miles to the south.
San Francisco’s construction of the O’Shaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River flooded the Hetch Hetchy Valley under 300 feet of water, turning it into a municipal reservoir. Public access to this portion of Yosemite National Park has been limited for decades and, compared to its natural state, there’s not a lot see or enjoy there in any event.  John Muir considered the destruction of the Hetch Hetchy Valley to be his biggest political failure, and a national tragedy. 
Frank goes on to discuss current debates about whether the dam should be dismantled and Hetch Hetchy restored.

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