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Hetch Hetchy Valley Before the Dam

From 1901 - 1913, John Muir led the Sierra Club in a campaign to protect the Hetch Hetchy Valley, a part of Yosemite National Park, from being filled by a reservoir.

The battle for Hetch Hetchy was perhaps the first effort at what is now known as "grassroots lobbying," getting individual citizens to contact elected officials in support of or opposition to legislation.

John Muir wrote to his friend Robert Underwood Johnson:

"We held a Sierra Club meeting last Saturday--passed resolutions and fanned each other to a fierce white Hetch Hetchy heat. I particularly urged that we must get everybody to write to Senators and the president keeping letters flying all next month thick as storm snow flakes, loaded with park pictures, short circulars, etc. Stir up all other park and playground clubs, women's clubs, etc..."

Despite opposition from many citizens, including most of the nation's leading newspapers, Congress passed the Raker Act in 1913 allowing the city of San Francisco to destroy Hetch Hetchy. The City built a dam and reservoir, drowning this beautiful valley, even though other less-damaging sites existed.

It was the first time the young national park system had been so violated. Although the Sierra Club lost that battle, the loss of Hetch Hetchy served to awaken the nation in defense of its national parks. Remembering the loss of Hetch Hetchy, in the 1950s and 1960s, the Sierra Club successfully stopped dams from being built in Dinosaur National Monument and in Grand Canyon National Park.

Let us never forget what happened here. The Sierra Club today still holds fast to the words William Colby wrote to Gifford Pinchot in 1909 with reference to Hetch Hetchy:

"Let me assure you that we have only begun to fight, and we are not going to rest until we have established the principle 'that our National Parks shall be hold forever inviolate,' and until we have demonstrated to the satisfaction of every one, including yourself, that the American people stand for that principle. We are going to keep up the good fight without fear or favor, 'if it shall take until doomsday.'

images before the dam

historical articles


Contact Information

For information about this website, e-mail: harold.wood@sierraclub.org


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