Hetch Hetchy measure headed for ballot


Lining City Hall's steps with boxes of petitions, environmentalists declared that voters will decide the fate of San Francisco's Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park.

"15,806 signatures of registered voters to qualify the water conservation and Yosemite restoration initiative," Yosemite Restoration Campaign Director Mike Marshall said.

Holding 117 billion gallons, Hetch Hetchy has been providing most of San Francisco with water since the 1930s. But backers of the ballot measure say that's long enough -- they want to drain the water and turn the valley back into park land.

"Giving something to future generations; restoring the beauty and grandeur of a national park," former California Secretary of Resources Huey Johnson said.

The initiative hasn't gotten a very warm reception from San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission. It's not that they don't want to be green; they say that draining Hetch Hetchy simply isn't feasible.

"It's been studied six times before, all have come to the same conclusions -- one is we'd have to find a new source of water, two, we'd have to find a place to store that water, and three we'd have to come up with the money to actually implement the plan, which could cost up to $10 billion," Public Utilities Commission spokesperson Michael Carlin said.

The PUC is already spending almost $5 billion improving the pipes that bring water from Hetch Hetchy to withstand a major earthquake. It's one reason Mayor Ed Lee says he opposes the ballot measure, which he calls "deceptive."

"I really think that that's a Trojan horse," he said. "I am saddened to see how many people may have signed that petition not knowing the real facts."

He's not alone in the accusation that all the talk of conservation and recycling is meant to distract voters from what they're really voting on.

"People holding banners and boxes and posters, and not one of those banners or posters said Hetch Hetchy," spokesperson Citizens for Reliable Water P.J. Johnston said.

But Marshall says he's hiding nothing.

"Let's see if we can undo the damage that's been done to Yosemite National Park," he said.

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