The Battle over Hetch Hetchy

The Battle over Hetch Hetchy : America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism

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In the wake of the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, the city of San Francisco desperately needed reliable supplies of water and electricity. Its mayor, James Phelan, pressed for the damming of the Tuolumne River in the newly created Yosemite National Park, setting off a firestorm of protest. For the first time in American history, a significant national opposition arose to defend and preserve nature, led by John Muir and the Sierra Club, who sought to protect
what they believed was the right of all Americans to experience natural beauty, particularly the magnificent mountains of the Yosemite region. Yet the defenders of the valley, while opposing the creation of a dam and reservoir, did not intend for it to be maintained as wilderness. Instead they
advocated a different kind of development-the building of roads, hotels, and an infrastructure to support recreational tourism. Using articles, pamphlets, and broadsides, they successfully whipped up public opinion against the dam. Letters from individuals began to pour into Congress by the thousands, and major newspapers published editorials condemning the dam. The fight went to the floor of Congress, where politicians debated the value of scenery and the costs of western development.
Ultimately, passage of the passage of the Raker Act in 1913 by Congress granted San Francisco the right to flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley. A decade later the O'Shaughnessy Dam, the second largest civil engineering project of its day after the Panama Canal, was completed. Yet conflict continued over the
ownership of the watershed and the profits derived from hydroelectrocity. To this day the reservoir provides San Francisco with a pure and reliable source of drinking water and an important source of power. Although the Sierra Club lost this battle, the controversy stirred the public into action on behalf of national parks. Future debates over dams and restoration clearly demonstrated the burgeoning strength of grassroots environmentalism. In a narrative peopled by politicians and business
leaders, engineers and laborers, preservationists and ordinary citizens, Robert W. Righter tells the epic story of the first major environmental battle of the twentieth century, which reverberates to this day.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 332 pages
  • 154.9 x 233.7 x 22.9mm | 453.6g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 28 halftones, 2 maps
  • 0195313097
  • 9780195313093
  • 1,562,854

Review quote

"Righter tells for the first time ever the full story of this famous wild valley in California and the battle that once raged, and is still raging today, over its fate. This is exemplary environmental history-well-researched, balanced and fair-minded, yet told with passion for the natural world."-Donald Worster, author of A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell "Tragedy, the philosopher Hegel tells us, can come from the clash of competing goods. In this thoroughly researched, elegantly written, and even-handed history, Robert Righter chronicles how alternative views of Americas future - urbanism versus the preservation of the environment - collided at Hetch Hetchy Valley. The founding of cities inevitably involves a sacrifice of environment. In losing the Hetch Hetchy Valley, America more than paid its price to bring into
being metropolitan San Francisco."-Kevin Starr, author of the Americans and the California Dream series "This book is a masterful study of the major symbolic controversy of American environmental history, the clash between resource exploitation and preservation of wild nature. In his gracefully written, skillfully researched work, Robert Righter, one of our leading environmental historians, untangles the surprisingly complicated and contradictory debate over Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy, which has continued into the 21st century and remains as relevant today as it was a
century ago when John Muir tried and failed to stop the city of San Francison from damming the pristine Sierra valley for public water and electrical power. In the current climate, when the nation and world face the same vital larger issues, and when forces are mounting to tear out what may have been
an unnecessary human defilement of nature, this wise and sensitive book could not have come at a better time."-Richard J. Orsi, California State University, Hayward "The fight over Hetch Hetchy was a defining moment in the clash between two defining traits of the American West-its abundance of natural beauty and its scarcity of water. Righter's radical retelling of the story requires us to rethink the modern conservation movement from its birth until today."-Elliott West, University of Arkansas "The Battle over Hetch Hetchy is something beyond merely the best book anyone has ever written on confluence of canyon, dam, and city that so shaped the story of the modern American West. It is both a well-argued history and a beautifully-written testimony of hubris and loss, even possible redemption. If our places and times really do shape us, Californian Bob Righter was born to write this book. He now joins Pinchot, Muir, Brower as part of its story."-Dan
Flores, author of The Natural West
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About Robert W. Righter

Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Robert W. Righter is Research Professor of History at Southern Methodist University.
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Rating details

61 ratings
3.73 out of 5 stars
5 16% (10)
4 48% (29)
3 30% (18)
2 7% (4)
1 0% (0)
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