San Francisco’s main water supply, the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, is more than just a utilitarian natural space — complete with stone monoliths, tall waterfalls, and other Instagram-worthy tropes. So it makes sense why some are pushing for expanded access to the area; SF, though, isn’t budging.
As reported by KPIX, a non-profit organization is pressuring San Francisco officials to increase public accessibility on the 1,200-acre Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, citing it would help bolster ecotourism and general interest in the area.
“There are places to picnic, there are places to fish, there are places to rock climb, and people can’t get back there,” said Executive Director of Restore Hetch Hetchy (RHH) Spreck Rosekrans to the news outlet, adding that “people should be able to explore the area.”
RHH is a conservation group advocating for the restoration of the area; they’re even suggesting that the O’Shaughnessy Dam be demolished to bring the reservoir back to a more pristine, primitive condition. So, no: RHH isn’t supporting the idea of having additional construction in the area to allow for more inclusive passage.
“We’re not proposing roads,” Rosekrans adds. “[But there] probably should be more trails, but the easiest way to get back there is to allow boating on the reservoir.”
According to figures published in CalMatters, the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is seen by a mere 1 percent of Yosemite’s visitors, despite the fact naturalist John Muir once described the unpopular refuge as a “rare landscape garden, one of nature’s finest mountain temples.” RHH believes that allowing electric boats to operate on the water could transport hikers and fishermen to various places along the 9-mile long reservoir, destinations that are now only reachable by multi-day-long backpacking journeys.
However, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) says it's not interested in any activity that allows human contact with the water.
“In our experience, people in the wilderness, in national parks… where people go, trouble tends to follow,” said Steve Richie, the commission’s general manager for water. “So we’re being very cautious about the type of access that will be allowed to our drinking supply.”
Which, alas, is a rather contradictory statement from previous narratives totted by The City. San Francisco promised in 1913, when congress green-lit construction for the O’Shaughnessy Dam, that the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir area would be managed for both “water supply and park purposes,” declaring that it would be “absurd” if SF thwarted the public from accessing the area.
Fast forward over a century and certain promises made by SF still have gone unmade. Though, the SFPUC says since none of those items were ever officially included in the final bit legislation circa 2013, they aren’t required to make good by them.
To this day, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir visitors still can’t camp on its grounds, enjoy well-maintained trails, or drive on its in-and-out roads once the sun goes down. And, per KPIX, a boating and swimming ban on the reservoir was snuck into a 2,000-page 2020 federal spending bill; the National Park Service, oddly enough, allows for year-round fishing in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and “part of the year in most [nearby] rivers and stream.”
And Rosekrans reasons it’s time San Francisco steps back and relinquishes some, if not most, of its power to Park Service, so Yosemite National Park visitors can enjoy this Muir-approved utopia — “[Restore Hetch Hetchy thinks] SF has had way too much influence on the Park Service to keep people away from this spectacular canyon, and that’s something that’s got to change.”
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission says the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir can store as much as 117 billion gallons for the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System, which not only serves San Francisco, but also Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties as well. Hetch Hetchy is also home to some of the most diverse array of flora and fauna found anywhere in the Yosemite National Park and a few of North America's tallest waterfalls.
Image: Wikimedia Commons