Restore Hetch Hetchy Files Papers For Ballot Initiative On Draining Scenic Yosemite Valley

Restore Hetch Hetchy, a group that long has lobbied to see the scenic Hetch Hetchy Valley of Yosemite National Park drained, has begun the process to convince San Francisco voters that the O'Shaughnessy Dam is no longer needed.

The Yosemite Restoration Campaign, sponsored by Restore Hetch Hetchy, on Wednesday filed the requisite papers with the San Francisco Department of Elections to begin the process for placing an initiative on this November's ballot.

The initiative, if endorsed by the voters, would require the city to develop a long-term plan for the improved use of local water supplies and the reduction of harm to Yosemite National Park, the Tuolumne River and the San Francisco Bay. The draft title of the initiative is "Water Sustainability and Environmental Restoration Planning Act of 2012." If that initiative is approved, the resulting plan would be placed before voters for approval in 2016.

"San Francisco's antiquated, 19th-century water system endangers the San Francisco water supply, harms the environment and is unsustainable," said Mike Marshall, executive director of YRC and RHH, both of which are non-profit organizations. "This water reform planning process will put San Francisco on a path to dramatically reduce the environmental damage caused by our current system and to lead the nation in creating a 21st century model for water sustainability."

Since the 1923 damming of the Tuolumne River to create a reservoir for San Francisco in Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite, San Francisco's water system has destroyed habitat, decimated the river's salmon population, and polluted the San Francisco Bay, according to Restore Hetch Hetchy.

The system also leaves San Francisco residents vulnerable, the group maintains. The city currently imports 99 percent of its water supply from outside city limits; most of it comes from the Tuolumne River and is transported across three major earthquake faults. Natural and unnatural catastrophes could disrupt the supply of this water to San Francisco, Restore Hetch Hetchy claims.

Currently, San Francisco does not recycle any water, whereas Orange County recycles 92 million gallons a day, the group said in a release. By capturing more rainfall, recycling water, and recharging and drawing water from its groundwater basin, the city can reduce its reliance on imported water and better prepare for droughts and other threats.

"Unlike our neighbors in Southern California, we San Franciscans don't recycle one drop of water, yet we use pristine Tuolumne River water from Yosemite National Park to flush our toilets, wash our dogs and clean our streets," Mr. Marshall said. "It's time for us to become more responsible stewards of this precious natural resource."

San Francisco environmentalists have long sought reforms in the city's water system, but have encountered resistance from elected leaders and bureaucrats at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the release said. Mr. Marshall believes such resistance places San Francisco's water rights at risk.

If the water reform ballot initiative qualifies and is passed by voters, it will result in the creation of a five-member board, including one representative each from the SFPUC and the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, and three people with relevant expertise to be appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

This board would hold regular, public meetings, culminating in the submission of a plan by November 1, 2015, to the City Attorney, who would prepare a charter amendment for implementation of the plan. Voters will then decide whether to pass the charter amendment in the November, 2016 election.