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In the wake of the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, the city of San Francisco desperately needed reliable supplies of water and electricity. Its mayor, James Phelan, pressed for the damming of the Tuolumne River in the newly created Yosemite National Park, setting off a firestorm of protest. For the first time in American history, a significant national opposition aro In the wake of the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, the city of San Francisco desperately needed reliable supplies of water and electricity. Its mayor, James Phelan, pressed for the damming of the Tuolumne River in the newly created Yosemite National Park, setting off a firestorm of protest. For the first time in American history, a significant national opposition arose to defend and preserve nature, led by John Muir and the Sierra Club, who sought to protect what they believed was the right of all Americans to experience natural beauty, particularly the magnificent mountains of the Yosemite region. Yet the defenders of the valley, while opposing the creation of a dam and reservoir, did not intend for it to be maintained as wilderness. Instead they advocated a different kind of development--the building of roads, hotels, and an infrastructure to support recreational tourism. Using articles, pamphlets, and broadsides, they successfully whipped up public opinion against the dam. Letters from individuals began to pour into Congress by the thousands, and major newspapers published editorials condemning the dam. The fight went to the floor of Congress, where politicians debated the value of scenery and the costs of western development. Ultimately, passage of the passage of the Raker Act in 1913 by Congress granted San Francisco the right to flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley. A decade later the O'Shaughnessy Dam, the second largest civil engineering project of its day after the Panama Canal, was completed. Yet conflict continued over the ownership of the watershed and the profits derived from hydroelectrocity. To this day the reservoir provides San Francisco with a pure and reliable source of drinking water and an important source of power. Although the Sierra Club lost this battle, the controversy stirred the public into action on behalf of national parks. Future debates over dams and restoration clearly demonstrated the burgeoning strength of grassroots environmentalism. In a narrative peopled by politicians and business leaders, engineers and laborers, preservationists and ordinary citizens, Robert W. Righter tells the epic story of the first major environmental battle of the twentieth century, which reverberates to this day.


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In the wake of the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, the city of San Francisco desperately needed reliable supplies of water and electricity. Its mayor, James Phelan, pressed for the damming of the Tuolumne River in the newly created Yosemite National Park, setting off a firestorm of protest. For the first time in American history, a significant national opposition aro In the wake of the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, the city of San Francisco desperately needed reliable supplies of water and electricity. Its mayor, James Phelan, pressed for the damming of the Tuolumne River in the newly created Yosemite National Park, setting off a firestorm of protest. For the first time in American history, a significant national opposition arose to defend and preserve nature, led by John Muir and the Sierra Club, who sought to protect what they believed was the right of all Americans to experience natural beauty, particularly the magnificent mountains of the Yosemite region. Yet the defenders of the valley, while opposing the creation of a dam and reservoir, did not intend for it to be maintained as wilderness. Instead they advocated a different kind of development--the building of roads, hotels, and an infrastructure to support recreational tourism. Using articles, pamphlets, and broadsides, they successfully whipped up public opinion against the dam. Letters from individuals began to pour into Congress by the thousands, and major newspapers published editorials condemning the dam. The fight went to the floor of Congress, where politicians debated the value of scenery and the costs of western development. Ultimately, passage of the passage of the Raker Act in 1913 by Congress granted San Francisco the right to flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley. A decade later the O'Shaughnessy Dam, the second largest civil engineering project of its day after the Panama Canal, was completed. Yet conflict continued over the ownership of the watershed and the profits derived from hydroelectrocity. To this day the reservoir provides San Francisco with a pure and reliable source of drinking water and an important source of power. Although the Sierra Club lost this battle, the controversy stirred the public into action on behalf of national parks. Future debates over dams and restoration clearly demonstrated the burgeoning strength of grassroots environmentalism. In a narrative peopled by politicians and business leaders, engineers and laborers, preservationists and ordinary citizens, Robert W. Righter tells the epic story of the first major environmental battle of the twentieth century, which reverberates to this day.

30 review for The Battle Over Hetch Hetchy: America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    I’m viewing this book as an introduction to my understanding of water and power rights in California. This book is well-researched and written (if not clearly the compilation of a number of essays not quite fully integrated into a novel). It lays out the local, regional, and federal context in which San Francisco semi-successfully gained a municipal water and power supply. It is certainly worth reading if you desire to understand the complex context in which this development occurred.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Marcia Huntting

    Super interesting!

  3. 4 out of 5

    gwayle

    Elegant, engaging, and frankly enraging exploration of the Hetch Hetchy controversy. "[I]f forced to identify one overreaching reason for the dam's existence, it was a failure of the democratic process or, perhaps more accurately, the bias of the democratic process toward San Francisco's power and wealth." (Could ya make the print any smaller, Oxford UP? Sheesh.) (Also, while I'm in my tsk-tsk mode, who the hell wrote the above summary copy? "In the wake of the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire Elegant, engaging, and frankly enraging exploration of the Hetch Hetchy controversy. "[I]f forced to identify one overreaching reason for the dam's existence, it was a failure of the democratic process or, perhaps more accurately, the bias of the democratic process toward San Francisco's power and wealth." (Could ya make the print any smaller, Oxford UP? Sheesh.) (Also, while I'm in my tsk-tsk mode, who the hell wrote the above summary copy? "In the wake of the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, the city of San Francisco desperately needed reliable supplies of water and electricity." One of the points of this book is that this statement is simply not true. SF cultivated this perception in order to get what it wanted. No amount of reservoirs or municipal control could have prevented the damage done to water infrastructure during the earthquake.)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    A surprisingly good book that gave a fairly even view of both sides of the Hetch Hetchy debate over where San Francisco should get its water/hydro-electric power. The book also deals with John Muir and the start of the Sierra Club as they were heavily, and still are, involved in the Hetch Hetchy battle. I thought the book would be preachy and try to convert readers to the environmentalist's side, but it was not each side was given fair treatment.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Martha Smith

    History. Righter tells for the first time ever the full story of this famous wild valley in California and the battle that once raged, and is still raging today, over its fate. This is exemplary environmental history--well-researched, balanced and fair-mined, yet told with passion for the natural world.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jeremiah Burke

    Starting this book before my backpacking trip in Yosemite gave me some historical perspective on the area I was exploring. My trip started right at the scene of the crime, the O'Shaughnessy dam. The book is good, although the author bends over backwards to be as fair as possible to all sides of this battle.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

    Zzzzzzzzzzz

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Huniu

    Compelling read that does a pretty good job of illustrating the arguments of both sides of the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joe Rasmussen

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tim

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  12. 4 out of 5

    B Hanson

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karen Shannon

  14. 4 out of 5

    Judith Krauss

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dirtandponcho

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rusty

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matt Hammes

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brenden

  19. 5 out of 5

    Anneliese

  20. 5 out of 5

    Clay

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nick Cincotta

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Jones

  25. 5 out of 5

    Zachary Makowski

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kim Gibson

  27. 4 out of 5

    Andy

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dr. Christopher

  29. 4 out of 5

    Hana

  30. 4 out of 5

    Charles N. Sheppard

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