As superintendent of Yosemite National Park from 1999 to 2003, I regretted that Congress had long ago allowed San Francisco to clear-cut and flood the spectacular Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite for use as a water storage tank. Such a proposal would be firmly rejected today.
I was also disappointed, and remain so, that San Francisco officials show no interest in taking steps to return the Hetch Hetchy Valley to the National Park Service so it may be restored and enjoyed once again by all visitors. Instead, officials seem stubbornly attached to the status quo. While cities throughout California have developed more sustainable water resource management, San Francisco has only fallen further behind. The City recycles none of its water and virtually ignores local resources such as rainwater and groundwater.
So, I am heartened that San Francisco voters will have the opportunity this fall to move their water system into the 21st century. The Yosemite Restoration Campaign has filed papers to begin the process of qualifying an initiative for the November ballot. The initiative would require The City to develop a long-term plan for the improved use of local water supplies and the reduction of harm to Yosemite National Park and the wild and scenic Tuolumne River. The resulting plan would be placed before voters for approval in 2016.
The Water Sustainability and Environmental Restoration Planning Act of 2012 will not only benefit the environment, it will also improve San Francisco’s water supply. The City currently imports 99 percent of its water, most of which travels a great distance across three earthquake faults, leaving residents vulnerable to natural and man-made catastrophes. Developing local resources could prove critical in the future.
Further, the plan would allow San Francisco to begin filtering its drinking water. Currently, the Department of Public Health warns people with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly, to consult a doctor prior to drinking The City’s unfiltered tap water.
It’s time for San Francisco to live up to its reputation for environmental responsibility and consider the ramifications of its actions on Yosemite, a national park so special it is inscribed as a World Heritage Site. The water reform initiative simply calls for the creation of a plan, which citizens can review and discuss before deciding whether to take the next step toward action. I join conservationists worldwide in encouraging this progress. It is not yet too late to restore Yosemite and make it whole again.
Dave Mihalic was superintendent of Yosemite National Park from 1999 to 2003. He is a member of the national advisory board of Restore Hetch Hetchy.