Lawsuit Seeking To Reclaim Hetch Hetchy Valley From SFPUC Dismissed

SONORA (CBS SF) — A lawsuit seeking to make San Francisco restore the now-flooded Hetch Hetchy Valley, which has served as a reservoir for the city’s water system since the 1920s, was dismissed in Tuolumne County Superior Court Thursday.

Judge Kevin Siebert granted a motion by the San Francisco city attorney’s office to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the Oakland-based group “Restore Hetch Hetchy,” finding the case was pre-empted by federal law and untimely, exceeding the statute of limitations.

View across Hetch Hetchy Valley, early 1900s, from the southwestern end, showing the Tuolumne River flowing through the lower portion of the valley prior to damming. (Isaiah West Taber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

View across Hetch Hetchy Valley, early 1900s, from the southwestern end, showing the Tuolumne River flowing through the lower portion of the valley prior to damming. (Isaiah West Taber via Wikimedia Commons)

Located near Yosemite Valley, the 9-mile-long Hetch Hetchy Valley was once considered “as thrilling and majestic a landscape as Yosemite Valley,” according to the lawsuit filed by Restore Hetch Hetchy. It was flooded in 1923, following the 1913 passage of the federal Raker Act giving San Francisco rights to Tuolumne River water and permission to build the O’Shaughnessy Dam and pipelines.

Managed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is now part of a water system that serves 2.6 million people in the Bay Area and the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, as well as a source of hydroelectric power.

The lawsuit, filed in April last year, argued that the city’s operation of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir violates the California Constitution’s requirement that state water resources be used in a reasonable way and be put to beneficial use.

Arguing that the reservoir eliminates or impairs scenic and recreational uses of the river, the lawsuit asked the court to order San Francisco to divert the river and store water further downstream so that the dam can be breached and the valley restored.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera called the plan a “terrible idea” and noted that San Francisco voters rejected a ballot measure promoting the valley’s restoration by 77 percent in 2012.

“This lawsuit was a bid by the very same advocates to accomplish in a Tuolumne County courthouse what they couldn’t in a San Francisco election,” Herrera said in a statement.

Spreck Rosekrans, Restore Hetch Hetchy’s executive director, said the group thought the judge “got it wrong” and planned to appeal the ruling.

“We’re a long ways from giving up,” he said.

Rosekrans said support for restoring Hetch Hetchy is much stronger outside San Francisco than within the city. He noted that the controversy over the flooding of the valley led to the creation of the National Park Service, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in October.

Siebert granted the plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint.

© Copyright 2016 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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