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 6

Congress Decides

"The Destruction of the charming groves and gardens,
the finest in all California, goes to my heart."

JOHN MUIR

THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS can be a fickle one. Elections bring changes— some unplanned—that determine outcomes, including the fate of a relatively obscure valley. The interplay between the executive and legislative branches is cumbersome, seemingly dedicated to slowing down the process of decision making. At times both sides in the Hetch Hetchy controversy might have wished for a benevolent dictator to decide in their favor. Interior Secretary Walter Fisher could have acted in that capacity, but instead he deferred to Congress, perhaps knowing that the whole issue would end up there anyway. It did.

By 1913 the time had come for a decision. Both sides had perfected and presented their arguments. San Francisco based its hopes for water and power needs on John Freeman's idea that the city's victory could provide water and power, while giving the American people a scenic lake set deep in the granite frames of the Hetch Hetchy Valley. The city believed that through good planning and design the practical needs of a growing city could be linked to the aesthetic standards of a national park. The Sierra Club and the Society for the Preservation of National Parks did not deny the city's right to a bountiful water supply. However, they vigorously argued that there were other viable options. The Hetch Hetchy Valley should remain undefiled— revered as scenery, protected by the mantle of the national parks, and maintained as a place where thousands of Americans could refresh themselves while spending their dollars.

-117-

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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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