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

By Robert W. Righter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2

The Imperial City and Water

"Cities, like all other living things, need water to survive,
and even more water to flourish."

GERALD T. KOEPPEL, Water for Gotham: A History (2000)

IN THE SAME year that Joseph Screech wandered into the Hetch Hetchy Valley, San Francisco was in the midst of a remarkable change from a city of shacks and tents to one of wood frame houses and commercial enterprises. In the brief time from the American takeover to the gold rush, a mere three years, the Mexican town of Yerba Buena transformed itself into a commercial center of some 40,000 people, a cosmopolitan mixture of ethnic and racial groups, all driven by a desire to acquire wealth in this new country— and all in need of water.

From this beginning, water in San Francisco was of paramount importance. In many regions residents assume abundant water as a given right, but it has always been problematic in the arid West—highly valued, often scarce or unavailable when you want it. San Francisco was on the edge of aridity, but its location made it particularly vulnerable. So the city sought to solve its resource problem by looking to the snow-fed streams of the distant Sierra Nevada mountains. City leaders understood that availability of water often influenced urban growth as well as individual fortunes. For human communities water is a necessary commodity that has multiple meanings, often bringing out the best and most noble human characteristics but also quite capable of triggering self-serving actions and greed. In the water wars of San Francisco, all of these traits were present.

-29-

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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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