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Hetch Hetchy Environmental Debates

Between 1908 and 1913, Congress debated whether to make a water resource available or preserve a wilderness when the growing city of San Francisco, California proposed building a dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley to provide a steady water supply. The Hetch Hetchy Valley was within Yosemite National Park and protected by the federal government, leaving it up to Congress to decide the valley’s fate. National opinion divided between giving San Francisco the right to dam the valley and preserving the valley from development.

At the heart of the debate was the conflict between conservationists, who held that the environment should be used in a conscientious manner to benefit society, and preservationists, who believed that nature should be protected, saved from human interference. Siding with the conservationists, San Francisco citizens argued that the reservoir was necessary for the health of their city. On the other side, preservationists, led by John Muir, argued that Congress should protect the Hetch Hetchy Valley from destruction. Muir and his allies believed that nature should be enjoyed for its beauty, and not merely used for its resources.

Hundreds of individuals and organizations from across the country submitted petitions to Congress regarding the valley. These petitions, some of which are included below, bear witness to the birth of environmental activism as citizens weighed in, expressing multiple opinions about the proper use of National Park land and the relationship between local interests and national values.

In the end, Congress passed legislation that enabled the creation of a dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill into law on December 19, 1913. Although the preservationists lost this battle, the damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley raised public awareness about the importance of preserving nature, and helped justify the creation of the National Park Service in 1916.

H.R. 7207, The Raker Bill

Resolution from the Graffort Club of Portsmouth, New Hampshire Against Granting San Francisco the Hetch Hetchy Valley, NAID 7268048

Petition from the Hypatia Women’s Club of San Francisco Supporting Granting San Francisco Water Rights to Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy, NAID 7268040

Protest Against Diversion of Waters from Lands Requiring Irrigation from Citizens of Merced and Stanislaus Counties, California, NAID 7268067

Petition from the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society Against the Raker Bill, NAID 7268069

Petition from the Society for the Preservation of National Parks Against Granting San Francisco the Hetch Hetchy Valley, NAID 7268060

Petition from the Widows and Orphans and Mutual Aid Associations, Inc. of the San Francisco Fire Department Supporting the Raker Bill, NAID 7268071

Telegram from the Executive Board of the San Francisco District of the California Federation of Women's Clubs Supporting the Raker Bill, NAID 7268072

Petition from the University of Oklahoma Against the So-Called Hetch Hetchy Bill (H.R. 7207) NAID 7268075

Resolution by the Massachusetts State Federation of Women’s Clubs Against the Raker Bill, NAID 7268076

Resolution from the Augusta, Hallowell, and Gardner Central Labor Union of Maine in Favor of the Raker Bill, NAID 7268079

Telegram from the San Francisco Council No. 615, Knights of Columbus Supporting the Raker Bill, NAID 7268080

Petition from San Francisco Swedish Clubs Supporting the Raker Bill, NAID 7268081

San Francisco Examiner Petition to the Senate of the United States Supporting the Raker Bill, NAID 7268086

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