The Battle over Hetch Hetchy: America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism

By Robert W. Righter

Within the wake of the devastating 1906 earthquake and hearth, the town of San Francisco desperately wanted trustworthy provides of water and electrical energy. Its mayor, James Phelan, pressed for the damming of the Tuolumne River within the newly created Yosemite nationwide Park, atmosphere off a firestorm of protest. For the 1st time in American heritage, an important nationwide competition arose to shield and guard nature, led by means of John Muir and the Sierra membership, who sought to guard what they believed used to be the appropriate of all americans to adventure usual attractiveness, relatively the wonderful mountains of the Yosemite quarter. but the defenders of the valley, whereas opposing the production of a dam and reservoir, didn't intend for it to be maintained as desert. as an alternative they recommended a special type of development--the construction of roads, lodges, and an infrastructure to aid leisure tourism. utilizing articles, pamphlets, and broadsides, they effectively whipped up public opinion opposed to the dam. Letters from contributors started to pour into Congress by means of the hundreds of thousands, and significant newspapers released editorials condemning the dam. The struggle went to the ground of Congress, the place politicians debated the worth of surroundings and the prices of western improvement. eventually, passage of the passage of the Raker Act in 1913 through Congress granted San Francisco the suitable to flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley. A decade later the O'Shaughnessy Dam, the second one greatest civil engineering venture of its day after the Panama Canal, used to be accomplished. but clash endured over the possession of the watershed and the earnings derived from hydroelectrocity. To this present day the reservoir offers San Francisco with a natural and trustworthy resource of ingesting water and a huge resource of energy. even supposing the Sierra membership misplaced this conflict, the talk stirred the general public into motion on behalf of nationwide parks. destiny debates over dams and recovery truly established the burgeoning power of grassroots environmentalism. In a story peopled by means of politicians and company leaders, engineers and workers, preservationists and usual electorate, Robert W. Righter tells the epic tale of the 1st significant environmental conflict of the 20 th century, which reverberates to at the present time.

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24 whereas so much early photographers and artists Hutchings's recommendation and ended up operating their magic in Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy attracted a minimum of one famed panorama artist. Albert Bierstadt got here to San Francisco along with his paints and palette within the fall of 1872, searching for elegant mountain surroundings, the type that may warrantly him an source of revenue in addition to increase his attractiveness as a panorama artist. He visited Yosemite Valley, in fact, yet an stumble upon with Jeanne Carr, spouse of college of California geologist Ezra Carr, led him to the lesser-known valley. 25 Carr instructed that if Bierstadt visited Hetch Hetchy, he wouldn't be simply replicating different artist's influence of Yosemite Valley, yet particularly developing pictures of a hitherto unobserved, yet both chic, mountain valley. Bierstadt discovered the assumption exciting, and in July 1873 he set out along with his spouse and 3 acquaintances on a six-week pack journey to the Hetch Hetchy sector. we don't recognize if he consulted with Muir, however the artist discovered the valley as captivating because the author. He famous the inaccessibility of Hetch Hetchy yet informed buddies it used to be well worth the attempt. "It is smaller than the extra well-known valley," he defined, "but it offers a number of the related gains in its surroundings and is kind of as beautiful.. "26 whilst Bierstadt emerged from the mountains in overdue August, a San Francisco reporter famous that he used to be "laden with sketches, from a place which as but is sort of untrodden soil. "We recognize that from these sketches Bierstadt produced not less than 4 oil work, almost certainly extra. 27 In 1876 Mount Holyoke collage got one in all Bierstadt's paintings-simply referred to as Hetch Hetchy Canyon-to cling in its paintings museum, an instance of the effect of paintings in publicizing the little-known valley. 2 different artists, scientists, and adventurers trickled into the valley towards the shut of the century, usually at Muir's urging. That was once the case with Charles Dormon Robinson. within the early 188os the artist had risen in prominence as a panorama professional, tough Thomas Hill because the dean of Yosemite painters. trying to find new topics, in 1884 Robinson ventured on an overland trek to Hetch Hetchy, recording his impressions or even writing an outline of the journey for the San Francisco Chronicle. extra literal in his sort than Bierstadt, Robinson's depictions provide us a correct view of the valley 29 another artist who came upon suggestion in Hetch Hetchy used to be William Keith, Muir's Scottish good friend. the 2 usually traveled jointly within the Sierra Nevada, and Keith recorded that during 1873 he and Muir undertook a lifestyles threatening descent into the Tuolumne Canyon, the 1st "white get together" to take action. 30 No work resulted from that tough journey, yet within the years to stick with, Keith recorded his mountain impressions. He spent memorable Hetch Hetchy outings with Muir in 1895 and 1907. regrettably, the earthquake and hearth of 1906 destroyed a few of his earliest and most interesting works. Keith and different artists gave a lot wanted exposure to the valley, a spot faraway from the facilities of civilization.

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