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“The environmental movement as we know it was forged in the fight against Hetch Hetchy Dam. No previous debate over the American landscape had so engaged and enraged the American public. The Sierra Club and other opponents helped stir this sentiment and their campaign to preserve Hetch Hetchy became the prototypical environmental campaign.”
—From Hetch Hetchy: Undoing a Great American Mistake
In the 1920’s the thirsty city of San Francisco reached deep into Yosemite National Park to build the O’Shaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River, diverting one-third of the river’s water and flooding the Hetch Hetchy Valley, said at the time to be as magnificent as Yosemite Valley itself. The water that flows through tunnels and pipelines into the households of San Francisco is steeped in the resulting heated debates, which began over a century ago and burn to this day.
Examining the stunning engineering feat that the dam represented to some when it was constructed, as well as the heartbreak of others, such as John Muir, over the loss of a valley as radiant as any in Yosemite National Park, award-winning nature writer Kenneth Brower’s Hetch Hetchy: Undoing a Great American Mistake is a tribute to the men and women whose lives were shaped by those waters, and the wild landscape that still exists beneath them.
Alongside A State of Change artist and historical ecologist Laura Cunningham’s pictorial reimagining of a drained Hetch Hetchy landscape over the course of two, ten, a hundred years, Brower envisages the species-by-species reclamation of the valley by its native flora and fauna as wildness flourishes again. Offering viable alternatives for restoration, Brower’s Hetch Hetchy is both an exploration of the pitched battle over an environmental tragedy and an inspiring reverie of a possible future.