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« Close Canal to Stop Carp from Invading Great Lakes | Main | Fishing for Sport Viewed as Cruel by Growing Number of People »

Dam Hypocrisy Revealed 

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park. Associated Press photo.

I was stunned speechless recently when I read this at the Outdoor Hub:

“Environmentalists and Republican lawmakers want the dam removed and the valley restored . . . Democratic San Franciscans, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, want the dam to remain in place. . .”

As everyone knows, Democrats are compassionate environmentalists, while Republicans are cold and heartless corporate types for whom the bottom line is everything.

What then, in the name of John Muir, is going on in San Francisco, with Democrats favoring protection of a dam in Yosemite National Park and Republicans siding with environmentalists against it?

In fairness, I haven’t yet been able to confirm that “Republican lawmakers” want to take out the dam. But Donald Hodel, Secretary of Interior under President Ronald Regan --- a Republican --- said this:

"Eventually, it will be broadly understood what an abomination a reservoir in a valley like Yosemite Valley really is. I think it will be hard to quell this idea (of restoration). It is like ideas of freedom in a totalitarian regime. Once planted, they are impossible to repress forever."

And there’s no question that the Democrats in the United States’ most liberal city have been caught with their hypocrisy showing.

This fall, San Franciscans will be asked to vote on Proposition F. Its passage would require the city to develop a plan for improving its water system and possibly could be the first step in removing a dam built about 90 years ago to supply the city with water, while flooding scenic Hetch Hetchy Valley in the national park.

As a result of that sweetheart political deal decades ago, San Francisco is the only city in the country operating a utility inside a national park.

Mike Marshall, campaign director for the Yosemite Restoration Campaign, says this:

“But Proposition F is opposed by virtually every member of San Francisco's elected leadership. It's a classic case of politicians ‘talking the talk’ but refusing to ‘walk the walk’ in America's most liberal city.”

How to explain it?

Simple: Democrats are compassionate environmentalists only when they are not inconvenienced by being so.

Prevent completion of an oil pipeline? Of course! It would be bad for the environment.

Blow out a dam to restore a river to its natural state? Of course! It would be good for the environment. But, oh wait, not if it would anger some of my constituents and possibly cost me some votes in the next election. 

Where do I stand on whether this dam should be removed? I don't know.

I certainly oppose destruction of Rodman Reservoir in Florida, where a thriving "manmade" ecosystem has evolved, despite man's ignorance for building a dam in the first place.  Environmentalists have been pushing for "restoration" there for decades, simply for the sake of "restoration."

What I do know is that kind of argument isn't enough for me. Dams are a critical part of our infrastructure, providing for water supply, hydropower, flood control, irrigation, and commercial navigation. Additionally, they have been a boon for outdoor recreation, especially sport fishing.

On the other hand, some dams have become liabilities over time, either because they have grown unsafe with age or because they have had unforseen and harmful consequences, such as blocking salmon runs.

Is the Hetch Hetchy dam more of a benefit or a liability? I don't know that either. But I do have a problem with the citizens of one city (and those around it) exlusively benefitting from a public resource in a national park.

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