Recently, the idea of draining the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park has gotten some attention. It all started with a Republican state representative who wanted to call out the liberals in San Francisco on their environmentalist hypocrisy — don’t judge the Central Valley farmers when your water is just as unsustainable. Well, now the “drain Hetch Hetchy” movement has gotten enough signatures on their petition to put the issue on the ballot in San Francisco.
Where will San Francisco get its water from, if not from there? The Bay Area is not sitting on a large reservoir of freshwater, and in fact the closest freshwater source, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, is overallocated due to shipments to Central Valley farmers and Southern California. Every city needs freshwater, and as I noted before, many major cities in the US depend on distant pristine sources. To be honest, the environmental damage has already been done to the remote valley of Yosemite. Draining and removing the dam would require more environmental damage than doing nothing, because you would need to bring in heavy equipment to do the dirty work.
My general sense is that Bay Area environmentalists, especially from San Francisco, lack practicality. We cannot have the city of San Francisco if we dismantle its water supply. We as a society apparently value some level of alteration to a pristine Sierra Nevada valley less than we value the existence of the city. I think that’s an ok tradeoff! San Franciscans pride themselves on their environmentalism, but they have twice rejected plans for a state-of-the-art water recycling facility in the city, which would increase its water sustainability substantially. I would argue that the water recycling plant is where effort should be focused, not on a lost cause to restore a distant valley.