Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

A monument… to something

My friend Tom Mangan (Two-Heel Drive) posted today about Hetch Hetchy, and concluded:

My takeaway after visiting the reservoir is that even if we can make the valley “whole” again, we’re better off letting it stand as a monument to the cost of so-called modern civilization. Some people want to imagine a world in which we get to have all our favorite toys and our favorite wilderness sites. Well, we can restore this Hetch Hetchy, but it’ll just require the creation of another one somewhere else. Fixing one ecosystem by ruining another is a strange kind of environmentalism.
[Two-Heel Drive]

Tom, I have to disagree.

While leaving Hetch Hetchy in its current state (e.g. – very large bathtub for San Francisco) does have the potential to remind us of the costs of civilizaton, there are problems with this notion.

For one thing, while millions of people visit Yosemite Ntional Park (mostly visiting that very beautiful and much drier valley a few miles to the south) very, very few ever see its waterlogged near-twin. In order for a monument to have the desired effect, it must be in a location where it cannot be ignored… the way that the travesty of Hetch Hetchy has been largely ignored.

Tom is probably right that emptying Hetch Hetchy might require the filling of some other valley lower down this or another central California river drainage. But this valley is in the middle of one of our greatest national treasure, Yosemite National Park. These places were established to preserve and protect the natural features they contain. One can accept reservoirs elsewhere and support the draining of Hetch Hetchy simply on the basis of its location.

In addition, if Hetch Hetchy is to be a monument to anything, I would rather it be a monument to our capacity to recognize a grievous mistake and set things right. Once drained, Hetch Hetchy would serve that goal in many ways. It would be a monument that would be seen and be a worthy destination for visitors. It would continue to caution us about taking our world’s treasures to lightly; while we could drain the Hetch Hetchy valley today, it will be many, many years before the effects of its damming (those damn effects?) will fade enough that they won’t be noticed. I am confident that we would tell a story of how proud and good we were as a people who had the integrity to undo this horrible mistake – a story I would love for my heirs to hear around a campfire in Hetch Hetchy valley some day.
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February 8, 2007 - Posted by | Commentary

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