Hetch Hetchy


Twice a week, the Heart of the City Farmers Market transforms San Francisco’s gritty United Nations Plaza with dozens of white canopies and truckloads of fresh produce. But on a recent sunny winter Wednesday, the abundance of sweet-smelling fruits and vegetables are contrasted by a gloomy point.

It didn’t rain once here last January. Not in this spot, nor in all of San Francisco.

The only local ballot measure San Franciscans rejected on Election Day was Measure F. It would have prompted an $8 million study into taking down the O’Shaugnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park, which currently supplies water for San Francisco and dozens of other Bay Area counties.

The most controversial local ballot measure facing San Franciscans this November — whether to develop a plan to reform the Hetch Hetchy water system and restore Hetch Hetchy Valley — reflects a question that cities everywhere are grappling with. As geologist Andrew Alden asked in a recent essay about the measure, "Do we want to arrange our society as if nature really matters?"

Eighty-five percent of San Francisco's water comes from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. San Francisco Proposition F calls for the city to begin evaluating the option of draining the reservoir. Before the Hetch Hetchy Valley was flooded, or the O’Shaughnessy Dam was built, environmentalists led by John Muir put up a big fight to keep it protected.