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San Francisco and the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Hearing held before the committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, December 16, 1908, on House Joint Resolution 184 - Part VII.

Doctor Giannini. I simply want to make one statement, and that is in answer to a remark of Mr. Englebright, of California, because I would like to have the representatives of California behind this proposition. He speaks of the removal of the taxable property from his county. I would like to suggest to him that the construction of these works will probably mean the expenditure of millions of dollars in his neighborhood, and I think his county will be amply repaid for whatever loss it might suffer by this construction. There will be roads leading from this place, and all kinds of construction work going on, and I think the money expended in that county will more than repay for the slight loss, and I would like to urge on the members of this committee this one point, that this is a proposition that the city of San Francisco is intensely interested in. We are now rehabilitating and reconstructing the city, and as the honorable Secretary of the Interior has stated, the present water supply of San Francisco is inadequate and unsatisfactory, and this will help us to rehabilitate our city.

Mr. Craig. There is one question I want to ask. It has been stated that this is the only place where water can be obtained to supply this city. There are other cities in this neighborhood, probably, that might be interested in this matter. Have any of them been heard from?

Mr. Hayes. They all have the right to come in and share.

Mr. Craig. Is that guarded?

Mr. Kahn. Yes; it is all in the permit.

(Thereupon, at 11.45 o'clock a.m., the committee adjourned until to- morrow, Thursday, December 17, 1908, at 10:30 o'clock a.m

The following communications were received by the chairman too late to be placed before the committee, and are therefore included in the printed record of the hearings:
Editorial Department, The Century Magazine,
New York, December 14, 1908.

Hon. Frank W. Mondell, M. C.,
Chairman Public Lands Committee, Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir: As I learn that on Wednesday a hearing is to be given to representatives of San Francisco on the bill to confirm the Garfield grant, I write to say that I am preparing an argument against the bill, which I hope to be able to forward to you to-morrow and which I hope may be taken into consideration in connection with the hearing. I am confined to my house with a heavy cold and it is not possible for me to appear in person, as I should greatly like to do. Meanwhile I send to you for the use of the committee in connection with my statement the following:

(a) Twenty photographs of scenes in the Hetch Hetchy Valley-titles on separate list. (b) An editorial from The Century Magazine for August, 1908, entitled, "A high price to pay for water." (c) An illustrated article by John Muir, the California naturalist and discoverer of the Muir glacier, entitled "The Endangered Valley," from advance sheets of The Century for January, 1909. (d) and (e) Letters from John Muir and William E. Colby.

I respectfully submit these to be filed with the archives of the committee, and I request that the editorial be included in the publication of the hearings, as it has elicited the approval of both sides of the controversy for its fairness in stating the issue. I hope the two letters may also go into the record.

Very truly yours,
Robert Underwood Johnson


Too little was said at the White House conference of the conservation of one of our chief resources, our great natural scenery, though Mr. Horace McFarland made an impassioned appeal for its protection as a national asset. This is in no sense a local question. The Palisades and Highlands of the Hudson, the White Mountains, the Adirondacks, Niagara, the Yellowstone Park, the Arizona Canyon (to name but the chief of such treasures), belong to the whole country, and their invasion by special interests or their diversion to commercial uses should be a matter of the most vigilant scrutiny.

The Secretary of the Interior, for reasons which doubtless appear to him good and sufficient, and with the approval of the President, has made over to the city of San Francisco, on certain conditions, as a reservoir for its water supply the wonderful Hetch Hetchy Valley, one of the most beautiful gorges of the Sierras, which, as part of the Yosemite National Park, was set aside in 1890, by reason of its scenery, for the recreation and use of all the people. This action has, on the face of it, the authority of a congressional provision (of February 15, 1901) by which the Secretary of the Interior may grant water privileges in the three national parks of California, "if not incompatible with the public interest." Whether the United States Supreme Court would hold that such authority extends to the destruction to so large an extent of the original purpose of the reserve may yet be the subject of adjudication.

In a matter relating to public lands the presumption is in favor of any course taken by President Roosevelt, Secretary Garfield, and Forester Pinchot. As our readers know, we have vigorously supported their enlightened services to the cause of forest conservation, as we have the services of preceding administrations. It was in this magazine that the movement for the creation of the Yosemite National Park first took public form in 1890, and the chief reason urged upon the Public Lands Committee for making the reservation-and we know whereof we speak- was to rescue from private invasion and for public use the rare beauty of the Hetch Hetchy and of the Canyon of the Tuolumne River, which flows through it. We therefore have particular regret that we do not find satisfactory the reasons officially given for the administration's extraordinary step, which, logically, would place the great natural scenery of the country at the service of any neighboring city which should consider its appropriation necessary or even desirable.

Let us say at once that we hold human life more sacred than scenery, than even great natural wonderlands, vastly as they contribute to save life and promote happiness; and if that were the issue, if San Francisco could not otherwise obtain an abundant water supply, we should be willing to dedicate to that purpose not only Hetch Hetchy, but even the incomparable Yosemite itself. But this is not the contention of Secretary Garfield in the official document granting the request. The administration's position is not that the step is a last resort, that no other source is adequate, but that Hetch- Hetchy affords the most abundant and cheapest available supply of pure water. Even this is stoutly denied by the opponents of the scheme, who contend, moreover, that a dozen other adequate systems may be found. Eminent and disinterested engineers have declared the present supply excellent and capable of ample development, as the water companies claim, and since the city fixes the water rates, and at need may condemn and acquire these sources at reasonable cost, there would seem to be no dangerous "monopoly." Indeed, the permission to dam the beautiful valley into a lake is conditional upon the previous exhaustion by the city of the resources of Lake Eleanor, which is also in the national park. Other conditions are attached and compensations agreed upon which are believed by the secretary to be safeguards of the public interests, with the important omission, however, to provide safeguards against the destruction of the scenery; but the fact remains that of this great reservation, which is as large as the State of Rhode Island, the northern third-for the watershed of the valley even above the Tuolumne Meadows must go with the valley itself-is to be withdrawn from the use of the people of the whole United States and given to the city of San Francisco. This involves a new principle and a dangerous precedent, and is a tremendous price for the nation to pay for San Francisco's water, and burden of proof that it is necessary is upon those who advocated the grant. It is not enough that it should be thought merely desirable.

It is idle to attempt to discredit such defenders of the public's previous rights in the valley as John Muir and many other members of the Sierra Club and other like organizations by calling them "sentimentalists" and "poets." Cant of this sort on the part of people who have not developed beyond the pseudo-"practical" stage is one of the retarding influences of American civilization and brings us back to the materialistic declaration that "Good is only good to eat." Most of those who oppose the grant live in San Francisco and vicinity and are deeply interested in the future of that redoubtable city; but they know the growing vogue of the few camping grounds of the health-giving park, into which, in the torrid and dusty summer, the people of the lowlands swarm in "the pursuit of happiness;" they know the exceptional beauty of the Hetch Hetchy, only surpassed in the Sierras by the neighboring Yosemite and by the distant and not easily accessible Kings River Canyon; they know also-to meet on its own ground the argument of cheapness-the money value of California's great natural attractions and that once to destroy the beautiful valley floor by flooding will be to render it irrecoverable.

There is one ground of hope that the danger may be averted. By the time it can be demonstrated that Lake Eleanor is not adequate, it is likely to be generally recognized that a pure-water supply need not depend upon mountain resources, but may be obtained by filtration from streams of less quality. Meantime the citizens of San Francisco, who (alone of Californians) are to vote upon the question, will do well to exhaust every other possibility of meeting their needs before giving their consent to the ruin of one of their imperial State's greatest natural treasure. We are confident that this issue would be the one most approved by the officials at Washington, who from conscientious motives have given assent to local official demands.

[Memorandum from John Muir, president the Sierra Club, received May 14, 1908, by J. Horace
McFarland, president American Civic Association.]


The better part of the world is beginning to know that beauty plays an important part in human progress, and that regarded even from the lowest financial standpoint it is one of the most precious and productive assets any country can posses.

Most of our forests have already vanished in lumber and smoke, mostly smoke. Fortunately the Federal Government is now faithfully protecting and developing nearly all that is left of our forest and stream resources; nor even these money-mad commercial days have our beauty resources been altogether forgotten. Witness the magnificent wild parks of the West, set apart and guarded for the highest good of all, and the thousands of city parks make to satisfy the natural taste and hunger for landscape beauty that God in some measure has put into every human being.

Timber and water are universal wants, and of course the Government is aware that no scheme of management of the public domain failing to provide for them can possibly be maintained. But, however abundantly supplied from legitimate sources, every national park is besieged by thieves and robbers and beggars with all sorts of plans and pleas for possession of some coveted treasure of water, timber, pasture, rights of way, etc. Nothing dollarable is safe, however guarded. Thus the Yosemite Park, the beauty glory of California and the nation, nature's own mountain wonderland, has been attacked by spoilers ever since it was established, and this strife I suppose must go on as part of the eternal battle between right and wrong. At present the San Francisco board of supervisors and certain monopolizing capitalists are trying to get the Government's permission to dam and destroy Hetch Hetchy, the Tuolumne, Yosemite Valley, for a reservoir, simply that comparatively private gain may be made out of universal public loss.

Should this wonderful valley be submerged as proposed, not only would it be made utterly inaccessible, but the sublime Tuolumne Canyon way to the heart of the high Sierra would be hopelessly closed. None, as far as I have learned, of the thousands who have visited the park, is in favor of this destructive and wholly unnecessary water scheme. Very few of the statements made by the applicants are even partly true.

Thus, Hetch Hetchy, they say, is "a low-lying meadow." On the contrary, it is a high-lying natural landscape garden. "It is a common minor feature, like thousands of others." On the contrary, it is a very uncommon feature, and after Yosemite, the rarest, most beautiful, and in many ways the most important feature of the park. "Damming it would enhance its beauty." As well say damming New York's Central Park would enhance its beauty. "Hetch Hetchy water is the purest and the only available source of supply for San Francisco." It is not the purest, because it drains a pleasure ground visited by hundreds of campers with their animals every season, and soon these hundreds will be thousands. And there are many other adequate and available sources of supply, though probably they would be somewhat more costly; and so with all their bad, cunning arguments, boldly advanced under the general ignorance of the subject.
John Muir.

Sierra Club, Mills Building,
San Francisco, May 12, 1908.

Norman J. Hapgood, Esq.,
Editor of Collier's Weekly, New York City.

Dear Sir: Having read Mr. Pinchot's argument in favor of the granting of the wonderful Hetch Hetchy Valley, situated in the Yosemite National Park, to be used as a reservoir site for a municipal water supply for San Francisco, I venture to reply.

The subject naturally divides itself into two parts: First, the necessity for using Hetch Hetchy, and, secondly, the effect on the natural scenery and travel in the park resulting from such use.

Necessity. -Mr. Pinchot admits that there are other available sources of supply for San Francisco, which have been acquired by water companies, and his main excuse for rejecting these sources is that these companies "seem to have been unreasonable in demanding far too high a profit." He fails to recognize the fact that any or all of these sources are open to condemnation by the city, which can thus compel the owners to turn them over at a reasonable figure. Condemnation will have to be resorted to even in case of the Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy system in order to extinguish many private rights.

As a matter of fact, San Francisco is exceptionally situated as far as the acquisition of a municipal supply is concerned. She probably has more available sources of supply than any other city of her size in the United States. Colonel Mendell, a most eminent hydraulic engineer, reports on fourteen available systems. It is self-evident that this is the case, for this city is situated near the confluence of the great Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, with many of their largest branches heading in the Sierra just to the east. Immediately to the south, on the same peninsula, and to the north across the Golden Gate, numberless smaller streams waste their waters in the ocean. Providence has been more than prodigal in bringing water within reach of San Francisco. Mr. Pinchot states that the present water supply of the city in "inadequate and unsatisfactory." By referring to Equity Case No. 13395, in the United States circuit court for the northern district of California, we find that Mr. Grunsky testified that "The wholesomeness of the water delivered (to San Francisco) has been established by long-continued use." In the same case the testimony shows that over 100,000,000 gallons daily, or three times the present need of the city, can readily be developed by extension of the present supply system. Colonel Heuer, a government engineer, reports to the same effect. Mr. Grunsky is a very eminent engineer, but I am not informed that he has ever constructed a great municipal water-supply system. In the case referred to such eminent specialists as Hering, of New York and Philadelphia; Stearns, of Boston, and others, testified that the present system was one of the best water supplies of any large city in the United States, both as regards quality and quantity, capable of development, and that there was no necessity of resorting to the Tuolumne (Hetch Hetchy system).

Prof. C. D. Marx, a specialist of Stanford University, in a carefully prepared paper on the subject, reports as follows:

"It can readily be shown that the drainage area needed for a water supply capable of furnishing 200,000,000 gallons per day can be had on a number of the Sierra streams. * * * That the drainage areas of streams north of the Tuolumne give better promise of meeting these requirements can not be denied. * * * It can not be said that the physical data now available are such as to admit of a reliable comparison of the relative values of the various sources of water supply for San Francisco from the Sierras."

The fact of the matter is that there has been friction between the Spring Valley Water Company, supplying San Francisco, and the city officials for many years. This attempt to secure rights in the Yosemite National Park has been an outgrowth of this hostility with the idea of displacing the local company, and in consequence the city is applying for a free water right, which has only been kept out of private hands because John Muir and other public-spirited citizens brought about the establishment of the Yosemite National Park in 1891, in order that its remarkable scenic features might be preserved for the entire nation.

There is no question but that the Hetch Hetchy supply is a splendid one, but it is equally beyond question that there are many others available. Mr. Pinchot says that "the Tuolumne supply offered the best and most available supply for the city." Some of the most eminent hydraulic engineers in America differ with him on this point even, but Mr. Pinchot's own statements establish that there is no compelling necessity for using the Hetch Hetchy system-it is merely a choice of many.

Effect. -Mr. Pinchot is convinced that the damming of the Yosemite- like floor of Hetch Hetchy will be less destructive to the scenic beauty of the national park than has been feared. His contention is that it will be converted into a "beautiful lake." He compares it to Crater Lake and Tahoe. It must be remembered that it is a reservoir which is to be created, and not merely a lake; that it is to be drawn from to an increasing extent as the years go by; that the warm summer climate and low elevation of the floor of this Yosemite Valley, with its vegetable mold only covered with a comparatively slight depth of water, are going to produce a tremendous aquatic growth, and as the waters recede unsightly margins of slime and decay will be exposed, with the accompanying disagreeable odors. Mr. Pinchot says that the lake will be bordered by "vertical granite walls," and yet that "it would be a simple matter to make trails or roads around the edges of the valley above high-water mark." The statements are not consistent from an engineering standpoint. Who is going to stand the burden of the great expense of their construction? The Government appropriates only a paltry sum for the use of the entire national park, and the needs of Yosemite Valley, as far as roads and trails are concerned, are shamefully apparent. Is the National Government, after giving a local community free of charge something that belongs to the entire nation, going to spend hundreds of thousands in addition to make accessible the reservoir lake in Hetch hetchy? Mr. Pinchot shows his bias by calling the floor of Hetch Hetchy a "cattle ranch." I have been in the valley on six different occasions and never saw any cattle on its beautiful park-like floor. This is the experience of many of my friends. It may be used occasionally for the pasturing of cattle. In any event, there is ten times more stock pastured on the floor of Yosemite Valley every year than in Hetch Hetchy. If Mr. Pinchot's contention is a valid one, he would turn the great Yosemite into a reservoir. He overlooks the fact that a "cattle ranch" is a condition that may be wiped out in a day, if the Government elects, but all the power and wealth of the American nation can not restore the pristine beauty of the parklike floor of the Hetch Hetchy Valley if it is once flooded. Mighty oaks and towering pines can not be replaced in a day. Mr. Pinchot says that the waterfalls will not be interfered with, but his informants have failed to tell him that the wonderful Tuolumne Fall, at the upper end of the valley, whose majestic roar can be heard throughout a great portion of the valley as the entire river leaps into the emerald pool below, will be entirely "drowned out."

Mr. Pinchot misses the main objection to the use of Hetch Hetchy as a reservoir. Thousands of campers of moderate means from the hot, dusty plains of the San Joaquin now inhabit the floor of the Yosemite during the summer months. The congestion is great. A road into the Hetch Hetchy would relieve it and thousands more of the increasing population of these plains would camp on the floor of the Hetch Hetchy. They will in time if the Government does not make it impossible by flooding the only available camping place for miles around. The national park was created for these people and these purposes. A limited number of wealthy tourists may gain access to this lake surrounded by towering and almost inaccessible cliffs, but they will only be able to view its sublimity from excursion boats, and can not live on the floor of the valley for days and wander about at will, as one can now.

Mr. Pinchot misses another salient point. If these thousands of tourists frequent this reservoir valley, as he claims they can, what is going to become of the typhoid germs and pollution created by this travel? What is going to become of the drainage of the river flowing through the valley, and which heads in the national park in a region that in a few decades is going to be frequented by thousands upon thousands of travelers? As a matter of fact, the use of Hetch Hetchy Valley for a municipal water supply is absolutely inconsistent with its rightful use as a national park.

The greatest judges of scenery in the world who have both visited this valley many times-John Muir, the author, and William Keith the artist-both say that in many respects it rivals the Yosemite and they are both most positive that its use as a reservoir will have a most destructive effect on its scenic beauty.

We agree with Mr. Pinchot that "most trees must be cut and most waters must be urged," but we do not follow him when he contends for the granting of a destructive eight years in advance of any necessity, even on his own statement. He overlooks entirely the economic value of scenery, and the fact that millions frequent the Alps each year for recreation alone. The Hetch Hetchy Valley is of infinitely greater economic importance to the nation and the State of California, with its park-like floor, intact and available for campers, than it will be as a reservoir site. This nation can afford to pay millions to prevent this desecration as far as economy and dollars and cents are concerned.

I am a tremendous admirer of Mr. Pinchot and have aided him in his noble work in my small way. My life and my business interests are interwoven with those of San Francisco, and no one has her welfare more at heart than I, and yet I know that this precedent of entering national parks is wrong in principle and unnecessary in fact, and I regret more than I can express in words to learn that in this instance Mr. Pinchot has become an advocate of comparatively local interests, as opposed to the interests of this great nation.

Very truly,
Wm. E. Colby.

New York,

At home, December 15, 1908.
Hon. F. W. Mondell, M. C.,
Washington, D. C.

Dear Sir: I am sending you herewith the brief concerning which I wrote to you last evening, and I respectfully request that it may be presented at to- morrow's meeting of the committee, so that it may have the same publicity that will be obtained by the advocates of the scheme. I trust that it may be read to the committee, as well as the letters of John Muir and W. E. Colby, which, if they can not otherwise go into the record and to the public, I desire to submit in confirmation of my statements.

I am still ill, but I hope to get down to Washington on Thursday or Friday and to call upon you briefly.

I shall appreciate greatly your kindness in this matter.

Very sincerely, yours,
R. U. Johnson.

P.S. I add some copies of Muir's Century article for the use of the committee.

Brief of Robert Sherwood Johnson
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