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Groups Pushing For More Public Access To Hetch Hetchy Reservoir; SF Not Interested

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK (KPIX 5) -- Hetch Hetchy reservoir is considered San Francisco's main water supply and the city is very protective of it. But it's also a part of Yosemite National Park and some people are pushing for more public access to the area.

Hetch Hetchy has a lot of the same features as Yosemite: picturesque waterfalls, huge granite monoliths, even the Hetch Hetchy Dome that looks a bit like Half Dome. But one thing is doesn't have is a lot of visitors. Compared to Yosemite, it's deserted.

"There's places to picnic, there's places to fish, there's places to rock climb, and people can't get back there," said Spreck Rosekrans.

Rosekrans is the Executive Director of a group called Restore Hetch Hetchy, which actually advocates tearing down O'Shaughnessy Dam and returning the valley to its natural state.

But the group says at the very least, the public should have more access to this land around the reservoir, which is part of Yosemite National Park.

"People should be able to explore this canyon," said Rosekrans. "We're not proposing roads. There probably should be more trails, but the easiest way to get back there is to allow boating on the reservoir."

The group has proposed an electric ferry boat system, operated by the park, that could transport hikers and fishermen to various places on the 9-mile long reservoir that are currently only reachable by a multi-day backpacking journey.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission sets the rules for Hetch Hetchy and says it is not interested in any activity that allows human contact with the water.

"In our experience, people in wilderness, in national parks…where people go, trouble tends to follow," said Steve Richie, the commission's General Manager for Water. "So we're being very cautious about the type of access that will be allowed to our drinking supply."

Bur Rosekrans says San Francisco is doing all it can to discourage the public. There is no camping allowed, trails are minimal and the road in and out is closed at night. All of this is happening despite the fact that public access, including boating, was promised back in 1913 when Congress voted to build the dam.

There were also promises of roads, hotels and campgrounds at Hetch Hetchy. But the SFPUC says since none of those things were included in the final legislation, called the Raker Bill, they are not required to abide by them.

And now, after the group proposed boating to the Dept. of Interior, a ban on boating at Hetch Hetchy was quietly slipped into the 2,000-page 2020 federal spending bill. The SFPUC says it doesn't know who put it in there. Rosecrans thinks HE knows…

"We think SF has had way too much influence on the Park Service to keep people away from this spectacular canyon," he said, "and that's something that's got to change."

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