Monday, June 05, 2023

Gone Hiking 2023 Hetch Hetchy: Hetch Hetchy Prologue

 The Hetch Hetchy Valley, located in the California Sierra Nevadas, is a glacial valley which is now located in what is Yosemite National Park.  The first European Americans reached the valley in the 1850's, not long after the Gold Rush; the Native Americans had lived in the valley for thousands of years.

(Hetch Hetchy Valley, early 1900's.  Source)

The name Hetch Hetchy is theorized to be from the Miwok word hatchhatchie, which meant "edible grasses".   The Tuolumne River wended its way through the valley. The valley itself was compared in its beauty to be similar to that of Yosemite Valley.

(Hetch Hetchy from the Valley Road, Albert Bierstadt, 1870.  Source)

When Yosemite was made part of a state park in 1864, Hetch Hetchy was not included.  It continued to be privately owned and was used for grazing, primarily sheep.  Even in the late 1800's the Valley was looked at as a potential source of water for a burgeoning San Francisco Bay Area.

Then the 1906 Earthquake happened.

(Location of the O'Shaughnessey Dam prior to construction, 1914.  Source)

With the resulting destruction from the Earthquake, the possibility of using Hetch Hetchy to supply water was investigated.  Despite significant arguments from naturalists including John Muir and the fact that by this time Hetch Hetchy was within Yosemite National Park, the project was approved 1913.  Work on the dam started in 1919 and completed in 1923.

(Hetch Hetchy Project.  Source)

After leaving the dam and flowing through two powerhouses which supply 20% of the power of the Bay Area, the water flows 167 miles through the aqueduct and supplies 265,000 acre-ft (327,000,000 cubic meters) of water each year to 2.6 million inhabitants of the Bay Area. (Source)

The reservoir remains a source of controversy.  The city of San Francisco pays $30,000 a year to access the water (yes, you read that right).  There has been a movement for years to remove the dam and restore the Valley.

Seeing the narrowness of the Valley, I can only imagine what it was like in its heyday.


  1. Edward Abbey, author of The Monkey Wrench Gang, likely had some ideas on how to remove the dam at Hetch Hetchy.

    1. Ed, even The Outdoorsman and I looked at the dam and questioned it as it is remarkably accessible, although they have large concrete pillars at the entrance - and it is seven miles on a single access road to get there.

  2. Sounds like the area has some interesting history. I can't imagine San Francisco would be willing to let go of the water source.

    1. Leigh, it really does. The comment by Muir has always stuck with me, and looking at the narrowness of what we can see in some places, my mind wonders what it would look if it has been never developed.

      It seems odd to me that, given the current world in which we live, the City of San Francisco has not stepped up to pay "its fair share" for the water it uses based on today's costs, not that of a century ago.


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