Monday, November 20, 2006

California Ponders Historic Restoration

The Hetch Hetchy valley, which in the eyes of many rivals Yosemite in sheer drama and beauty, was flooded in the 1920s to supply water and power to California residents. Now environmentalists are bolstered by a recently released government report stating that the restoration of the valley would be both viable and potentially desirable.

The dismantling of the dam in Hetch Hetchy would represent a symbolic act of renewal while providing an invaluable learning opportunity to test best practices for environmental reclamation in a living, breathing laboratory.

At the moment we really don't know what exactly will work best unless we give it a go,' said Joy Zedler, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, who has created a phased restoration plan. Scientists hope to learn much about how to restore a landscape from what is likely to be little more than a moonscape of mud when first revealed. That knowledge will boost reclamation projects around the world. Zedler believes they will amass information that will be used globally

The proposed project has gained widespread support, including that of Harrison Ford, who was involved in making a documentary that backs the plan. However, cost remains the biggest hurdle to the successful implementation of the project, with estimates ranging from $1 billion to $10 billion all in.

Despite the cost hurdles, the plan is not without precedent. In the Florida Everglades over $10 billion has been set aside to restore threatened wetlands. A similar effort in densely populated California would present a startling message of environmental values that would be sure to gain the attention of citizens and policy makers the world over.


jerry said...

Thanks for the succinct summary of our noble campaign. A couple of quick comments --
1. The actual cost of all aspects of restoration is much closer to the $1 billion figure than the inflated $10 billion.

2. The issue is quite unique in that it has great potential for attracting private funds, as well as both US federal gov't funds and California Gov't funds.

There's so much more to tell -- please take a look at

Board Chair
Restore Hetch Hetchy

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting post!

I don't understand something - why is this being contemplated now when California does not have an electricity surplus (a low GHG one anyway). If all the coal/gas etc. power plants in California (and the surrounding states that feed it power from their coal plants) had gone away I could understand the decommissioning of a hydropower plant.

It would be madness to consider inundating the valley now but that is not the same as considering reversal of that prior decision.

The FAQ on does mention that the dam is a small contributor relative to the size of Californian demand. Perhaps evaluating the contribution of the dam to GHG levels via rotting vegetation (probably small after all these years though) might help make a case for migration to a CCGT power source.

The conservation and alternative arguments are of course valid but:

1. Conservation is only feasible in a steady state demand scenario. If net population increases per capita demand has to decrease more - and even then is this dam the first power plant you would close?

2. Dams are good load balancers since they can store unneeded demand kick in to replace downed generators or to supplement peak demand. Weather dependent supply such as solar or wind cannot be relied upon - unless the Stirling Dish works out for Southern Cal. Edison.