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 7

To Build a Dam

"I give waters in the wilderness and rivers
in the desert to give drink to my people."

ISAIAH 43:20

THERE IS AN excitement to building, to actually creating what you have dreamed and planned on paper for years. Michael O'Shaughnessy felt that intensity when he returned to San Francisco. He knew that the Hetch Hetchy Valley and the immense water system would occupy his thoughts for the next decade. As a dirt-under-the-fingernails engineer, O'Shaughnessy never felt comfortable as a lobbyist in Washington. At one point, thoroughly tired of the food at the Willard Hotel, City Attorney Long offered to treat the delegation to a famous local restaurant known for its delicacies, including frog legs. When the waiter nodded to him, O'Shaughnessy ordered plain ham and eggs, which, he recalled," caused considerable mirth and consternation amongst my less democratic associates." But the Irish civil engineer shook off any criticism, remembering that he longed "for the smell of the construction camp."1

With the Raker Act in place, he would now be able to get back to construction camps. The 49-year-old engineer, soon known simply as "the Chief," would get his chance to build a great dam and a complex water system, one that would fulfill his professional desire to make a difference and also partially carry out James Phelan's wish to make San Francisco and the Bay Area the premier region of the American West. As construction began in 1915 and finally concluded in 1934, there was no end of controversies. It is impossible to detail all of them. The scale of John Freeman's plans would test

-134-

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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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