Synopses & Reviews
A vivid account of Americas first environmental cause célèbre, which illuminates our attitudes toward fundamental questions of growth, development, and our place in nature.
The building of the OShaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in the middle of Yosemite National Park-despite the availability of less expensive, less technically challenging, and less politically complicated possibilities-set off a defining controversy in American environmentalism. From the early 1900s to 1913 Americans argued about proposals to dam the Tuolumne River and transform the extraordinary Hetch Hetchy Valley into a giant source of water and hydroelectric power for the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a story of intrigue replete with political scandals and suspect tactics played out in the corridors of Congress, in San Franciscos City Hall and its corporate boardrooms, and in the national media. The colorful cast of characters includes Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir, as well as a host of political bosses, West Coast boosters, East Coast patricians and publishers, big-business interests, newly formed environmental groups, and the American public.
Simpson also takes us through the building of the enormous dam and the extensive tunnels and aqueducts that carry water to the Bay Area, and the even more controversial hydroelectric project that still fails to deliver the “public” power that Congress mandated and about which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled. He recounts conversations with an array of people currently involved in the ongoing controversy over whether to manage, refurbish, repair, and enlarge the system, or to tear down the dam and restore the valley to its prior splendor. Simpson concludes with a reflection on what all of this reveals about American attitudes toward growth, development, and environmental stewardship.
"An ardent preservationist, Simpson (Visions of Paradise: Glimpses of Our Landscape's Legacy) argues for the restoration of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley. Although the valley is in a national park, in 1913 Congress passed the Raker Act, authorizing the construction of a dam and reservoir on the Tuolumne River, flooding the Hetch Hetchy. The dam was built, despite opposition by John Muir and other environmentalists, to deliver water, and later electricity, to San Francisco, but Simpson says that other, less destructive options were available. In addition to relating this history, Simpson, a professor of landscape architecture and natural resources at Ohio State, examines how the Raker Act has been consistently undermined. Through the machinations of corrupt politicians, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a private corporation, in violation of the Raker Act's call for a public power authority, has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on providing electrical power to San Francisco that is costly to consumers. Simpson's research is exemplary, and he deftly explores this case study of the nexus of politics, business and the environment. And he's lyrical when recounting his trips to Yosemite and describing the transformative beauty of the wilderness area. (July 12)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Despite widespread public objection, in 1913 Congress approved a bill authorizing the construction of the Hetch Hetchy Dam and Reservoir within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. There had been other, less expensive, less technically challenging and less politically complicated ideas for supplying water to San Francisco. But after a decade-long debate, Hetch Hetchy won out--and sparked a defining controversy in American environmentalism. John Simpson takes us through the tangle of intrigues surrounding the project that played out in Congress, in San Francisco's City Hall and its corporate boardrooms and in the national media. We meet the participants in the debate, including Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir and a host of political bosses, businessmen and newly formed environmental groups. Simpson details the construction of the dam and the remarkable system that today supplies unfiltered High Sierra mountain water to millions of consumers in the Bay Area and he explains the project's continuing failure to deliver the public power that was its purpose. He interviews people currently involved in the controversy over whether to overhaul the system or tear it down and restore the valley to its original splendor. And he makes clear how Hetch Hetchy has influenced, for better and for worse, American attitudes toward environmental stewardship.
Simpson takes readers through the tangle of intrigues surrounding the Hetch Hetchy dam project in Yosemite National Park that played out in Congress, in San Francisco's City Hall and its corporate boardrooms and in the national media.
About the Author
John Warfield Simpson is Professor of Landscape Architecture and Natural Resources at Ohio State University. He is the author of Visions of Paradise: Glimpses of Our Landscape’s Legacy and Yearning for the Land: A Search for the Importance of Place, and of many articles. He lives in Upper Arlington, Ohio, with his wife and children.