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 VIII.
Committee on the Public Lands,
Gentlemen: As a citizen of the United States I wish to record my opposition to the pending bill confirming the grant of the Hetch Hetchy Valley and other portions of the Yosemite National Park to the city of San Francisco, executed May 11, 1908.
Exception to this grant is to be taken upon two grounds:
Let me say at the outset that, as I have elsewhere testified, I regard the service of the President in the matter of the conservation of the national forests and other resources as the most distinguished achievement of his incumbency and as of colossal importance and value to our country. It is only in this grant of national territory for the uses of a city that I find anything to criticise in the record of the administration in this field.
First, on the question of jurisdiction: On Saturday, December 12, 1908, Chief Justice James T. Mitchell, of the State of Pennsylvania, addressing the Pennsylvania Society in New York said:
"* * * the only safety for all is obedience to law as it is written, not to a strained and distorted construction for temporary view to make it mean what it does not and was never intended to mean, but honestly and fearlessly to carry out the real meaning of its makers."
I respectfully submit that the action of the administration in making this grant is based in a strained and technical construction of the authority of the Secretary of the Interior conferred by the act of Congress of February 15, 1901, authorizing the Secretary to exercise jurisdiction in the matter of water privileges within certain territory including the Yosemite National Park. I believe that the Congress regarded the water privileges mentioned in that act to bear a minor, casual, and incidental relation to the park, and that it is a violent construction of the language of the act to assume that it would authorize the virtual diversion of one-
Suppose that the act of 1901 had explicitly conferred upon the Secretary entire control of the question of fences, would he be considered as acting within his authority if he had permitted fences to be built which would exclude the public from approach to this beautiful valley? And yet, virtually, that is what will be accomplished when we follow the rights thus conveyed by the Secretary to their logical results. For you can not grant a river or a valley for a reservoir without excluding the public from use of the watersheds which feed it. Confirm the grant and you have diverted from public use one-
Many instances must occur to inexperienced legislators of attempts to control large public properties by laying a foundation for a technical construction of passages of subordinate and minor intent-
In general, is there not a great danger to our institutions in giving sanction by confirmatory acts to such interpretations, made under no stress of emergency, as when an official is called upon to act suddenly for some overwhelming public good? This grant was made while the Congress was still in session, and in the face of strong opposition. Were it not better that executive officials should be held to a stricter observance of the spirit as well as of the letter of the law? To act within the technical letter of the law is a safeguard, but to consider the letter as authorizing action not in the spirit of the law is leaving too much to private interpretation.
(a) Leaving the question of the authority of an executive officer, which need only be stated to excite the interest of every member of the legislative branch of the Government, and considering the grant on its merits, let me record my belief-
The charge is made by responsible persons that an additional motive for desiring the grant is the hope that ultimately the surplus water may be available for electrical power for the city. The terms of the grant now explicitly deny this advantage, but it is more than an open secret-
(B) I believe that the grant is "incompatible with the public interest" as related to the national park. I have already cited the ominous fact that the whole northern half of the park must be given over to the jurisdiction of the city-
This is in keeping with the vandalism of certain commissioners in the old days of the mismanagement of the Yosemite Valley who wished to cut out all the underbrush so that the guests at the Coleman House might know when the stage was coming, not knowing, benighted souls! that the underbrush was the unit of measurement even of Sentinel Rock, nearly 3,000 feet high, leading the mind by successive steps, from tree to taller and still taller trees, to a realization of the vast heights of that sublime mass. Let there be no illusion about the fate of Hetch Hetchy; it can not be submerged and retained; it can not be submerged and restored. The forests not only of the valley but of the neighboring region will be destroyed in the course of the construction of the proposed dam. Even the lake can not be seen from the precipitous walls of the canyon, and if could it would be a thing of unsightly border and artificial aspect. Satan himself would never have dared play such tricks with the Garden of Eden.
I protest in the name of all lovers of beauty-
(c) I beg this honorable committee also to pause and reflect how far-
All of which is respectfully submitted.
[By John Muir, author of "The Mountains of California," "Our National Parks," etc.]
(In the Century for August, 1908, in an editorial article "A high price to pay for water,"attention was called to the grant last May by the present administration to the city of San Francisco of extensive portions of the great Yosemite National Park for use as a water supply. The agreement between the city authorities and the Government provided, among other conditions, that the-
The few photographs here shown and Mr. Muir's brief description will serve to suggest to the reader the great beauty of the valley.-
The most strikingly picturesque rock in the valley is a majestic pyramid over 2,000 feet in height, which is called by the Indians "Kolana." It is the outermost of a group like the Cathedral Rocks of Yosemite and occupies the same relative position on the south wall. Facing Kolana on the north side of the valley there is a massive sheer rock like the Yosemite El Capitan, about 1,900 feet high, and over its brow flows a stream that makes the most beautiful fall I have ever seen. The Indian name for it is Tueeulala. From the brow of the cliff it is free in the air for a thousand feet, then strikes on an earthquake talus and is broken up into a ragged network of cascades. It is in full bloom in June and usually vanished toward the end of summer. The Yosemite Bridal Veil is the only fall I know with which it may fairly be compared, but it excels even that wonderful fall in airy swaying grace of motion and soothing repose. Looking across the valley in the spring, when the snow is melting fast, Tueeulala is seen in all her glory burning in white sun fire in every fiber. Approaching the brink of the rock her waters flow swiftly, and in their first arching leap into the air a little hurried eagerness appears; but this eagerness is speedily hushed in sublime repose, and their tranquil progress to the base of the cliff is like that of downy feathers in a still room. The various fabrics into which her waters are woven are brought to view with marvelous distinctness by the instreaming sunshine. They sift and float from form to form down the face of that grand gray Capitan rock in so leisurely and unconfused a manner that one may examine their texture and patterns as one would a piece of embroidery held in the hand. Near the bottom the width of the fall is increased from about 25 feet to 100 feet and is composed of yet finer tissue, fold-
A little to the eastward, on the same side of the valley, thunders the great Wapama or Hetch Hetchy Fall. It is the about 1,700 feet high, and is so near Tueeulala that both are in full view from the same point. Its location is similar to that of the Yosemite Fall, but its volume of water is much greater, and at times of high water may be heard at a distance of 5 or 6 miles or more. These twin falls are on branches of the same stream, but they could hardly be more unlike. Tueeulala, in sunshine, chanting soft and low like a summer breeze in the pines; Wapama, in gorge shadows, roaring and booming like an avalanche. Tueeulala whispers that the Almighty dwells in peace; Wapama is the thunder of His chariot wheels in power.
There are no other large falls in the valley. Here and there small streams, seldom noticed, come dancing down from crag to crag with bird-
The floor of the valley is about 3 miles long, half a mile wide, and is partly separated by a bar of glacier-
Hetch Hetchy weather is delightful and invigorating all the year. Snow seldom lies long on the floor and is never very deep. On the sunny north wall many a sheltered nook may be found embraced by sun-
A good many birds winter in the valley and fill the short days with merry chatter and song. A cheerier company never sang in snow. First and best of all is the water ouzel, a dainty, dusky little bird, about the size of a robin, that sings a sweet fluty song all winter as well as in summer, and haunts the wild rapids and falls with marvelous constancy through all sorts of weather. A few robins, belated on their way down from the upper mountain meadows, make out to spend the winter here in comparative comfort, feeding on mistletoe berries. The kingfisher also winters in the valley, the golden-
Toward the end of March the sprouting grasses make the meadows green, the aments of the alders are nearly ripe, the libocedrus is sowing its pollen, willows putting forth their catkins, and a multitude of swelling buds proclaim the promise of spring. Wild strawberries are ripe in May, the early flowers are in bloom, the birds are busy in the groves, and the frog sin pools.
In June and July summer is in prime, and the tide of happy, throbbing life is at its highest. August is the peaceful season of ripe nuts and berries-
Excepting only Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy is the most attractive and wonderful valley within the bounds of the great Yosemite National Park and the best of all the camp grounds. People are now flocking to it in ever-
Committee on the Public Lands,
Gentlemen: Being advised that a hearing is to be granted to-
Permit me to state that I have authority to thus speak on behalf of the club by virtue of a vote passed by our governing board on October 22, 1907. The matter was at that time before the Secretary of the Interior, and a formal protest was filed with him.
Allow me also to state that we are not speaking upon this subject without definite knowledge of the conditions both political and physical. Many of us have visited the Hetch Hetchy Valley, and in fact have traversed the entire length of the Tuolumne Canyon from Soda Springs meadows to Hetch Hetchy. Moreover, we have examined in detail all the printed evidence gathered upon the subject by the Hon. E. A. Hitchcock, who, as Secretary of the Interior, considered this petition in 1902; we have corresponded with the present Secretary of the Interior, with the Chief of the Forest Service, and with prominent citizens of San Francisco and other bay cities upon the matter. The writer has also had personal interviews on two or three occasions with two noted hydraulic engineers who had served as consulting authorities upon this subject of added water supply for San Francisco. We have, in short, taken the utmost pains to inform ourselves as to the merits of both sides of the case, and have kept posted constantly through all the proceedings.
It is our belief that Mr. Hitchcock took the only proper stand upon this petition. It was his endeavor to ascertain whether or no there was any public necessity which would justify him in surrendering to any community special rights which would tend to injure the natural beauties of the park. The act of October, 1890, requires the Secretary of the Interior to "provide for the preservation from injury of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders * * * and their retention in their natural condition."
It is true that the act gives him power to make grants such as that now under consideration, but only when it "is not incompatible with the public interest."
Mr. Hitchcock, after taking much testimony, decided that this was not the only reasonable source of water supply for the city, and that he was not justified, therefore, in granting flowage rights which would of necessity involve the mutilation of the natural wonders of the park.
Mr. Garfield, however, declined to rule upon the claim of the city that this was the only reasonable source of water supply, stating that in his judgment "it is sufficient that after careful and competent study the city officials insist that such is the case."
In this we feel that Mr. Garfield erred. What constitutes "careful and competent study?"
Two of the very best authorities on municipal water supply in the country were consulted by the opposing sides in this matter. For the city, Mr. Desmond Fitz Gerald, of Boston, made an examination and report. For the opposition, Mr. Frederick P. Stearns, also of this city, likewise made examination and report. Both engineers considered not only the present water supply but several proposed new supplies among others the Hetch Hetchy and Lake Eleanor watersheds. Mr. Fitz Gerald favored the Tuolumne source, while Mr. Stearns reported that the present supply with the extensions which can readily be made, is in all respects adequate for many years to come.
Was not the study of the opposition therefore equally "careful and competent?"
We would not array ourselves knowingly in opposition to granting any community a proper water supply, but we feel that here is a point of fundamental importance which should be proved beyond peradventure before the Hetch Hetchy grant is confirmed. Is the Tuolumne supply to only reasonable one for San Francisco.
The mere assertion of either side that it is or that it is not, however positively made, should not be accepted as conclusive evidence. It is our hope that your committee will avail itself of the personal testimony of the two engineers named above.
We believe that you will agree with us that the resources of our national parks should not be carelessly opened to exploitation and that you will also appreciate the importance of conserving such notable scenery as these parks contain as national assets of value. Switzerland long ago appreciated the commercial and sanitary value of scenery and legislated for its conservation to her great and lasting profit. Our people are more and more coming to appreciate the value of their national scenic treasures. The Yosemite Park is year by year visited by increasing numbers. An examination of the recent reports of the superintendent of the park will show that the tide of travel has greatly increased there since the completion of the railroad to El Portal. The hotels in the main valley are already inadequate, and camping parties find it increasingly difficult to securities.
Hetch Hetchy Valley is admitted to be a natural wonder, but little inferior to the Yosemite proper, while the Tuolumne Canyon, through which flows and plunges the main river from the great mountain meadows at Soda Springs, is one of the big natural features of the Sierra and of the park.
The old Yosemite is soon to prove inadequate in every way to keep the throngs that will journey to those mountain regions. With better roads to Soda Springs and to Hetch Hetchy the present pressure upon Yosemite will be relieved. Civil engineers who are members of this club and who have recently traveled over the trails of the park, state that it would be a comparatively simple matter to thus open up those sections to the public. The public merely awaits the facilities. With a reservoir at Hetch Hetchy one of these great camping grounds will be extinguished, and the scenery which would attract the people thence will, in our opinion, be seriously marred. We are unable to agree with those who profess to think that a vast artificial lake, subject to heavy drafts by the water users and by evaporation in dry summers, with the attendant bare and slimy shores, will prove equally attractive to those who seek relaxation amid pleasant scenes.
It is even doubtful if the users of the water would long allow the camping upon those shores of hundreds of tourists and their animals, owing to the danger of the contamination of the supply. And will not the same hold true of the camping privilege in the Tuolumne Canyon and on the mountain meadows above? The tendency of water boards everywhere is to relieve the watersheds under their care of even a suspicion of a contaminating influence.
We regret that we are unable to be personally represented at the hearing, but we trust that this letter may be allowed to go in as a part of your record, and that your committee will take no hasty action upon the petition of the city.
Chairman of Public Lands Committee,
The Yosemite National Park was created in order that the unrivaled aggregation of scenic features of this great natural wonderland should be preserved in pure wildness for all time for the benefit of the entire nation, and Hetch Hetchy Valley is a counterpart of Yosemite; and a great and wonderful feature of the park, next to Yosemite in beauty, grandeur, and importance, is the floor of Hetch Hetchy, which, like that of Yosemite, is a beautiful landscape park, diversified by magnificent groves, gardens, and flowery meadows in charming combinations specially adapted for pleasure camping, and this wonderful valley is the focus of pleasure travel in the large surrounding area of the park, and all the trails from both the south and the north lead into and through this magnificent camp ground, and though now accessible only by trails it is visited by large numbers of campers and travelers every summer, and after a wagon road has been made into it and its wonders become better known it will be visited by countless thousands of admiring travelers from all parts of the world.
If dammed and submerged as proposed, Hetch Hetchy would be rendered utterly inaccessible for travel, since no road could be built around the borders of the reservoir without tunneling through solid granite cliffs, and these camp grounds would be destroyed and access to other important places to the north and south of the valley interfered with, and the high Sierra gateway of the sublime Tuolumne Canyon leading up to the ground central camp ground of the upper Tuolumne Valley would be completely blocked and closed. Such use would defeat the purpose and nullify the effect of the law creating the park. The proponents of the San Francisco water scheme desire the use of Hetch Hetchy not because water as pure and abundant can not be obtain elsewhere, but because, as they themselves admit, the cost would be less, for there are fourteen sources of supply available. We do not believe that the vital interests of the nation at large should be sacrificed and so important a part of its national park destroyed to save a few dollars for local interests. Therefore we are opposed to the use of Hetch Hetchy Valley as a reservoir site as unnecessary, as impartial investigation will demonstrate.
Hon. W. F. Englebright,
This county largely interested in point of diversion. If below confluence of North Fork and main Tuolumne River serious conflict will with rights, probable on account of contamination of waters from mining, lumbering, etc. Wire exact point of diversion contained in Hetch Hetchy bill. If no point of diversion stated insist on insertion as above.