Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel summoned the leaders of half a dozen major conservation organizations to his office Thursday, asking their help in deciding whether Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park can be restored.
The glacier-carved valley in the Sierra Nevada was dammed early in this century by the city of San Francisco and now holds 360,000 acre feet of water behind O'Shaughnessy Dam. Hodel, in a surprise announcement last month, proposed tearing down the 430-foot-high dam and draining the reservoir that now supplies most of San Francisco's water.
Hodel called the meeting in Washington "to explore this idea" with the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, National Parks and Conservation Assn., the American Recreation Coalition and Western River Guides, an Interior spokeswoman said.
"The proposal is just in the idea stage," Emily DeRocco, director of the department's external affairs, said in a telephone interview. She said Hodel called in the organizational leaders to get their ideas on whether the restoration of Hetch Hetchy was a concept "worth exploring at all."
While three of those attending Thursday's meeting agreed that they would like to see the restoration, reactions to Hodel's efforts to enlist their aid in planning such a project were mixed.
"Given the secretary's abysmal record and given the lack of any homework on this issue, I have a very hard time seeing any evidence that he (Hodel) is serious," said George T. Frampton Jr., president of the Wilderness Society.
Frampton described Hodel's Hetch Hetchy proposal as a public relations ploy intended to divert attention from other more important issues, such as oil drilling in an Arctic wildlife refuge. "The Wilderness Society just is not going to join in Secretary Hodel's public relations parade," he said.
The Sierra Club's Michael McCloskey took a more moderate, wait-and-see stance. Observing that it was obvious that "no substantial staff work has been done" on Hodel's proposal, McCloskey said, "We would like to see a serious study . . . find some feasible way to restore Hetch Hetchy."
Paul Prichard of the National Parks and Conservation Assn. welcomed the chance to assist in designing a feasibility study. "I think Hetch Hetchy is worth it; I am ready to put down my other issues to look at this," he said, adding that his cooperation would last only so long as he is convinced that Hodel is "sincere."
If Hetch Hetchy Valley is to be restored, an alternate supply of water would have to be found for San Francisco. Hodel assured the conservationists that his proposal was not an attempt to revive efforts to build Auburn Dam on the American River, DeRocco said.
"He made it clear at the beginning of the meeting that Auburn (Dam) would not be built as a federal project in his lifetime," DeRocco said. Hodel also told the group that he and the department would continue to disagree with conservationists on other issues, but wanted their help determining if the Hetch Hetchy proposal should be pursued.