The Battle over Hetch Hetchy

America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism
Righter, Robert W.
Date published: 
June 2005

The first American conservation movement was born during the progressive Era out of the concern that industrial growth and urban developement threatened to extinguish America's wilderness. The era's most controversial environmental issue was the five year struggle over federal approval for the flooding of a remote corner of federally owned land in California's Yosemite National Park to build the Hetch dam. The city of San Francisco, rebuilding after the devastating 1906 eathquake, believed the dam was necessary to meet its burgeoning needs for reliable supplies of water and electricity. In a fight that pitted the city government against the chief forester and John Muir's nascent Sierra Club, and took the controversy to teh US Congress, the utilitarian needs of San Fransico's citizen's were put above the aesthetic and moral advantages of the leaving federal land and the continuing struggle to restore the valley, especially in light of continuing resource management issues in California.