Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Fog central & Han Solo

After a frustrating start to my journey which involved me purchasing a new ticket for the Melbourne to Auckland leg I landed in San Francisco.  I've only been here for a day and a half but there's plenty to like  about the place, although for late spring, it's really cold as a dense fog has enveloped the city since I've been here.

A Foggy San Francisco from Alcatraz

I've already met up with a local though who works in sustainability for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission in the hunt for suitable stories for the documentary.  While nothing jumps out at the moment, we did discuss an interesting proposition that the people of California will be voting on in November.  

The Hetch Hetchy Dam currently supplies the vast majority of the water to San Francisco and surrounds and is of such high quality and captured high in the catchment, that it needs minimal treatment or pumping.  The Dam was formed through the flooding of a valley 100 years ago in Yosemite National Park, and was in part to ensure San Francisco had sufficient water so that should there be another earthquake induced fire the city would have sufficient water.

There is now a concerted campaign to drain the Dam and restore the valley to its former state through the Restore Hetch Hetchy campaign.  The water currently supplied though the Dam will be replaced by a series of smaller dams lower in the catchment.  Water from these dams will be of lesser quality and require treating and significant pumping beyond that currently required.  In addition the hydroelectricity currently generated by Hetch Hetchy will be lost.  

The debate has effectively pitched two sides of sustainability against one another, the conservationists who wish to restore the natural values of the valley vs those concerned with climate change and their desire to minimise growth in emissions.  In our discussion over lunch it became apparent it's a complex issue and the part that astounded me is that the public will be asked to determine this...which accounts for Harrison Ford being engaged by the Restore campaign to garner support. It provides an interesting contrast to Australia with our wave of desalination plants constructed over the past few years and the minimal public involvement in these decision making processes.  It begs the question as to the 'appropriate' level of involvement of the public in making these complex decisions when even the environmental community is divided. 


  1. Looks like you might be heading to Yosemite National Park to check this out...

  2. Hetch Hetchy is a fantastic name. I think Hetchy Hetch would be even better.

    Do you think you have more sympathy for the conservationists or the climate change environmentalists? How similar is this to the wind farm debates of local landscape/place values versus global climate change values?

    In past workshops, we would call the locally focused environmentalists the 'bricks' and the the globally focused ones the 'greens' (and the fashion focused ones the 'golds').

  3. Hetchy Hetch is a good name indeed, especially when the person you're speaking with expects you to know what it's like. I think my sympathies are with the climate change environmentalists as to me the water supply issue and interlinkages with climate change and the increase in emissions are problems that are only going to be exacerbated in the future. The loss of species with the Hetch Hetchy has already occurred, so I think I'd need to understand in more detail the ecological benefits of bringing it back to what it concern is that part of the argument is driven by the value generated from the scenery that it would recreate, as opposed to the ecological values, but that's just my off the top of my head opinion.