Water Wars Began in SF 100 Years Ago

The signing of the Raker Act in 1913 started off a century-long aquatic history.

By Chris Roberts
|  Thursday, Dec 19, 2013  |  Updated 4:04 PM PDT
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Hetch Hetchy Group Submits Signatures

Photo courtesy Flickr user satosphere/Flickr CC

The road to this water supply began 100 years ago today.

There's a lot of water pressure in San Francisco.

Behind every turn of the faucet, there's 100 years of contentious history.

Dec. 19, 1913, was when President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Raker Act, which allowed San Francisco to begin drawing its water from as-yet unbuilt Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park.

Since then, "the mother of all California water wars" has been running steadily downstream, according to the San Francisco Examiner, touching farmers as well as conservationists -- as well as anyone who washes, drinks or otherwise imbibes the pure Sierra snowmelt that flows from San Francisco faucets.

The Raker Act gave San Francisco the OK to construct O'Shaughnessy Dam in Yosemite, which eventually flooded the Hetch-Hetchy Valley, which was reportedly a beautiful twin to the Valley which today draws visitors from all over the world.

The pain of losing such a pristine beauty reportedly helped hasten the end of John Muir, who called Hetch Hetchy "one of God’s best gifts [that] ought to be faithfully guarded," the newspaper reported.

The dam was finished in 1923, but water delivery did not begin until 1934 -- long after the 1906 earthquake and fire which heightened San Francisco's need for a steady flow of H20.

Intense lobbying helped persuade Congress to allow San Francisco to dam the national park. In recent years, lobbying has returned -- this time, to convince voters to tear the dam down.

All of San Francisco's biggest powerbrokers are staunchly against such a scheme.

Undaunted, nonprofit Restore Hetch Hetchy wants to convince courts to order the dam be taken down. San Francisco would still draw water, but not power.

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