The Battle over Hetch Hetchy: America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism

By Robert W. Righter | Go to book overview

Introduction

ON A GRASSY knoll overlooking Crystal Springs Reservoir on the San Francisco Peninsula sits an unexpected, Roman Renaissance revival temple. As a child I accompanied my father as he drove past the Pulgas Water Temple to and from our home. Often he would stop at the site to let me stretch my legs and work off a little energy. I would run ahead alongside the reflecting pool, but slow to a walk as I approached the temple. The silence of the pool was replaced by the tumultuous roar of 34 million gallons of Hetch Hetchy water, arriving daily. Hesitatingly, I would climb the steps to peer over the low cement wall and watch the frothing water as its roar echoed and reverberated throughout the temple. The scene was fascinating, yet fearful. My father, a Stanford graduate, told me that freshmen students who joined an eating club had to walk blindfolded on a two-by-twelve-inch board across the abyss as part of their hazing ritual. Whether or not this was true, I resolved that I would never attend Stanford University.

More recently, I revisited the temple and for the first time looked up to read the etched inscription on the cornice: "I give Waters in the Wilderness and Rivers in the Desert to give Drink to my People" (Isaiah 43:20). The verse invoked God's role in a project dedicated in 1934 and completed at the sacrifice of many lives and years of struggle and at an astronomical cost. The temple commemorated San Francisco's achievement in bringing water from the distant mountains to the thriving metropolis. It would serve as a permanent reminder of a remarkable effort, and the notion that the bountiful resources of nature are won, not given.

The achievement, however, was not realized without great controversy. This book is the story of that controversy. The struggle over the fate of California's Hetch Hetchy Valley represents a classic story in the ongoing debate over human land use. It involves water, a valley, and a city. In question was

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The Battle over Hetch Hetchy: America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • The Hetch Hetchy Harriet Monroe vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Contents xiii
  • Hetch Hetchy Chronology xv
  • Cast of Characters xvii
  • List of Illustrations xxi
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1 - The Uses of the Valley 11
  • Chapter 2 - The Imperial City and Water 29
  • Chapter 3 - Water, Earthquake, and Fire 45
  • Chapter 4 - Two Views of One Valley 66
  • Chapter 5 - San Francisco to [Show Cause] 96
  • Chapter 6 - Congress Decides 117
  • Chapter 7 - To Build a Dam 134
  • Chapter 8 - The Power Controversy 167
  • Chapter 9 - The Legacies of Hetch Hetchy 191
  • Chapter 10 - Restoration 216
  • Afterword 242
  • Notes 245
  • Index 279
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