San Francisco Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Initiative, Proposition F (November 2012)

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A San Francisco "Water Sustainability and Environmental Restoration Act," Proposition F ballot question was on the November 6, 2012, ballot for voters in San Francisco County, where it was defeated.

Proposition F would have allocated $8 million to require the City to prepare a two-phase plan to evaluate how to drain the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and identify replacement water and power sources.

The city's Ballot Simplification Committee held a hearing in early August to deliberate about how to describe the measure in its official ballot text. The language they chose uses the phrase "drain Hetch Hetchy" four times. Supporters of the measure plan to file a lawsuit to stop the city from using that language in the official ballot text. They say, "We believe these changes create a political bias against the measure, do not accurately reflect the language of the initiative, and mislead voters."[1] In an October, 2011 letter to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Restore Hetch Hetchy's Executive Director, Mike Marshall, wrote "Restore Hetch Hetchy has announced plans to place an initiative before the voters in 2012 that would lead to the removal of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.[2]

However, some aspects of what the measure would do were not in dispute. These included:

  • It would have required the city to spend up to $8 million on a plan to shut down the reservoir.[1]

Election results

Measure F
Defeatedd No249,30476.90%
Yes 74,885 23.10%
Final certified results from the San Francisco County elections office.


A group called "Restore Hetch Hetchy" supported the measure. Mike Marshall is the director of Restore Hetch Hetchy. He also led the campaign to pass the measure. Marshall said, "The Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park is an American gem. It is one of the most extraordinary ecosystems in the world. Yosemite is one of the crown jewels of our park system, and it deserves to be whole."[3]


  • Mayor Ed Lee said that the measure is "stupid" and "insane."[1]
  • The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Proposition F "...a huge waste of time and money"[4]
  • The San Francisco Chronicle called Proposition F "...a misleading measure that will squander taxpayer money."[5]
  • A group called "Save Hetch Hetchy" opposed the measure.[1]
  • The unanimous San Francisco Board of Supervisors[6]
  • Dianne Feinstein said, "The suggestion that San Francisco is not using its water supply efficiently is simply not true. Per person, Bay Area residents use less than half...the state's per-capita average. Hetch Hetchy provides critical water supplies to 2.5 million people and thousands of businesses, and any effort to jeopardize that water supply is simply unacceptable."[3]
  • David Chiu opposed Proposition F. He said, "San Franciscans know that true water sustainability starts by maximizing water conservation and efficient water use, not by destroying and then building costly new facilities as the measure advocates...This ballot initiative is a Trojan horse that threatens irreparable harm to our economy and our environment."[7]
  • According to the San Francisco Examiner, "there is a united front of elected city officials opposing the measure."[1]

About Hetch Hetchy

The O'Shaughnessy Dam was installed in Hetch Hetchy Valley in the second decade of the 20th century to collect water from the Tuolumne River.

The 1913 Raker Act permitted the dam's construction. Under the Raker Act, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is allowed draw water from the reservoir; to do so, it must meet a condition that says the city must "first draw upon their own stored water to the fullest practicable extent."[3]

San Francisco gets 100% of its water from the Hetch Hetchy system. The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir itself store 85% of the City's overall drinking water supply, the remaining 15% is stored in the system's 5 other reservoirs. The network goes from the Sierra Nevada mountains, across the Central Valley and out to the coast, and serves 2.5 million Californians in 30 cities across four counties.

Estimated costs

Cost estimates to dismantle Hetch Hetchy vary. Proposition F's proponents estimate the project would cost $1 billion, while the California Department of Water Resource estimated the costs could be as high as $10 Billion. Proponents of Proposition F claim that by 2014, "Federal resources [will be] allocated for restoration of the valley in time for the centenary of John Muir's death"[8]. The San Francisco City Controller estimated that a $10 billion project could drive the average San Francisco ratepayer's water bill up by $2,770 per year.

Without the O'Shaughnessy Dam, the SFPUC estimates the system would lose 42% of its power generating capacity, which would cost the City's $41 million every year in lost power sales.[9]

Findings from previous studies

Hetch Hetchy restoration has been studied at least 7 times in the past 25 years.[10] The 2004 study from Environmental Defense estimated that, without Hetch Hetchy, San Francisco would face water shortages, on average, every five years.[11] The 2005 Restore Hetch Hetchy study proposes the construction of a temporary cofferdam deeper inside Yosemite Park to provide water while O'Shaughnessy dam is dismantled. The plan calls for O'Shaughnessy's 900,000 tons of concrete to be stored at Camp Mather, near the reservoir, until a permanent disposal site is located.

Environmental impacts

The Hetch Hetchy system produces 1.6 billion kilowatts of carbon free electricity. Without the O'Shaughnessy Dam, the SFPUC estimates the system would lose 42% of its power generating capacity.[9] It has been estimated that replacing that power with traditional resources would increase San Francisco's carbon footprint by 387,000 metric tons every year.[12]

Text of measure

The question on the ballot:

Proposition F: "This measure will: 1)Require the City to prepare a two-phase plan to evaluate how to drain the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and identify replacement water and power sources; 2) allocate $8 million to pay for the plan and create a five-member task force to develop it; 3) require the task force to complete the plan by November 1, 2015, and require the Board of Supervisors to consider placing on the ballot a Charter Amendment to approve the plan."[13]

Path to the ballot

The measure earned its spot on the ballot through the collection of signatures on initiative petitions. 9,702 valid signatures were required for qualification purposes, and approximately 16,000 signatures were submitted.[3]

External links

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Additional reading: