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A Dream to Savor

October 15, 1987

Early this century, big men like Bill Mulholland and Mike O'Shaugnessy had bold ideas about getting things done. They had grand visions for their water-starved cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. There was water up in the Owens Valley and at Hetch Hetchy in the Sierra. The only thing to do was to go and get it.

Timid people said it couldn't be done. Too many problems.

Not to men like Mulholland and O'Shaugnessy, though. A problem getting materials up to San Francisco's Hetch Hetchy project in Yosemite National Park? Build a railroad. Hauling cement still costly and cumbersome? Build a cement plant. Would Owens Valley ranchers refuse to give up their water rights? Buy the ranches. These men gave orders and subordinates replied, "Yes, Chief!" There was no talk of costing too much. This was progress.

The days of building grand water projects are past. But there still is a place for bold ideas. One of the most audacious of ideas to emerge in recent years happens to be the draining of San Francisco's reservoir in Hetch Hetchy Valley, the dismantling of O'Shaugnessy Dam and the restoration of the valley for national park use. And if Mike O'Shaugnessy is rotating in his grave, that is nothing compared to the whirling gyrations of San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who considers Hetch Hetchy water to be nothing less than San Francisco's birthright.

Feinstein met at O'Shaugnessy Dam on Tuesday with the man who is promoting this dangerous notion, Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel. Feinstein figured if Hodel could see the Hetch Hetchy project, he would realize what a foolhardy idea it is and how many problems are involved and how much it would cost. Where would San Francisco get its water? What about the electric power that would be lost? It just can't be done.

Don Hodel does not usually think big. Most of his ideas about the environment are small and negative. His motives for promoting the Hetch Hetchy proposal are suspect--perhaps to divert attention from his controversial development proposals and to throw environmentalists off balance. Nonetheless, he would not buy Feinstein's arguments that the Hetch Hetchy idea should not even be studied.

Hodel may never see Hetch Hetchy restored. If it ever happened, it would take years. There would indeed be problems and cost. But think of it--the idea of it. The idea . It is something for bold people who dream big dreams to savor and relish.

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