WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel, pursuing his idea of draining the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park and restoring it to its natural state, Tuesday announced what he termed "exciting possibilities" for replacing water and electricity that would be lost if the system is dismantled.
Outlining a new set of options to replace water and power for the San Francisco Bay Area, which include building other pumping facilities and dams to replace the O'Shaughnessy Dam, Hodel declared at a news conference that "we may yet be able to move forward with a plan which provides an alternative water and power supply in an economic fashion." The options are contained in an analysis by the department's Bureau of Reclamation.
The report drew immediate criticism from San Francisco officials. But a Sierra Club executive lauded the department for producing the 44-page report.
At a similar press conference in Sacramento, David Houston, regional director of Bureau of Reclamation, estimated that the cost of replacing the water for two million customers in the Bay Area would be less than $100 million--a price tag that Carl Pope of the Sierra Club called "well worth it."
"You couldn't buy an equal quality national park anywhere in the country for $100 million," Pope said.
Hodel said he will seek comments for 30 days from the National Park Service, Hetch Hetchy water and power users and others interested in the issue. After that, the bureau will make specific recommendations, he said.
If this process proves Tuesday's report to be "generally correct," he said, "we will be one step closer in our 1,000-mile journey to making an incredible, irreplaceable addition to Yosemite in particular and the national park system as a whole."
The journey, Hodel conceded, would be a long one, filled with legal, environmental and financial obstacles. Early estimates from San Francisco officials had put the cost of demolishing the 64-year old dam, which is 910 feet long and 308 feet thick at the base, as high as $8 billion. An environmental impact statement, likely would take at least three years--long past the Reagan Administration's term.
Thus, Hodel said, "it will be the challenge and opportunity of the next generation to determine how to restore the valley or remove the dam or both--if this generation is up to the challenge of finding a way to permit the reservoir to be drained."
Greeted With Protests
Last July Hodel announced his controversial idea for converting the reservoir into "a second Yosemite Valley" in the overcrowded national park, setting off a hail of protests from San Franciscans and putting environmentalists in the unusual position of having to side with the Reagan Administration on an environmental issue.
In addition to supplying water for 2 million people in the Bay Area, the Hetch Hetchy system allows the city to produce cheap hydroelectric power, the bulk of which is sold to other municipalities.
The report offers 11 options for replacing the water, listing the top three as a unit to be implemented together. Under that plan, the Lake Eleanor, Lake Lloyd and Don Pedro Reservoirs would be used to replace the Hetch Hetchy in the Tuolumne River system. Except during droughts, Eleanor and Lloyd currently are used only for providing water to Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts, not to San Francisco.
According to the report, this change "could provide a minimum of 336,000 acre-feet of Tuolumne River water annually to San Francisco through the city's existing system," which can convey no more than that.
Enlarged Shasta Dam
An alternative would be enlarging Shasta Dam at a cost of more than $3 billion. But the report made no mention of building Auburn Dam, estimated to cost more than $1 billion. When he first proposed razing O'Shaughnessy, Hodel suggested building the controversial dam as a source of replacing Hetch Hetchy water, but quickly backed down from the idea as too costly.
The report failed to deal with at least two key issues--how to dismantle O'Shaughnessy Dam, which created the reservoir, and how to replace the income that financially strapped San Francisco makes from selling excess water and power. The city's income from the sales has been as high as $56 million a year. Houston said such issues would be addressed in subsequent reports.
Thomas Eastham, press secretary to San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, said that city officials who have seen the options found a "great many negatives" in them, including the loss of the Hetch Hetchy's especially pure mountain water, the failure to replace all lost electricity and to provide back-up water during dry seasons.
Lee May reported from Washington and Dan Morain from Sacramento.