A National Debate - John Muir

The battle to save Hetch Hetchy was Muir's last. As the founder and leader of the Sierra Club he successfully fought two earlier application by San Francisco to dam the valley, but lost in 1913. He died just over a year later.


The better part of the world is beginning to know that beauty plays an important part in human progress, and that regarded even from the lowest financial standpoint it is one of the most precious and productive assets any country can posses.

Most of our forests have already vanished in lumber and smoke, mostly smoke. Fortunately the Federal Government is now faithfully protecting and developing nearly all that is left of our forest and stream resources; nor even these money-mad commercial days have our beauty resources been altogether forgotten. Witness the magnificent wild parks of the West, set apart and guarded for the highest good of all, and the thousands of city parks make to satisfy the natural taste and hunger for landscape beauty that God in some measure has put into every human being.

Timber and water are universal wants, and of course the Government is aware that no scheme of management of the public domain failing to provide for them can possibly be maintained. But, however abundantly supplied from legitimate sources, every national park is besieged by thieves and robbers and beggars with all sorts of plans and pleas for possession of some coveted treasure of water, timber, pasture, rights of way, etc. Nothing dollarable is safe, however guarded. Thus the Yosemite Park, the beauty glory of California and the nation, nature's own mountain wonderland, has been attacked by spoilers ever since it was established, and this strife I suppose must go on as part of the eternal battle between right and wrong. At present the San Francisco board of supervisors and certain monopolizing capitalists are trying to get the Government's permission to dam and destroy Hetch Hetchy, the Tuolumne, Yosemite Valley, for a reservoir, simply that comparatively private gain may be made out of universal public loss.

Should this wonderful valley be submerged as proposed, not only would it be made utterly inaccessible, but the sublime Tuolumne Canyon way to the heart of the high Sierra would be hopelessly closed. None, as far as I have learned, of the thousands who have visited the park, is in favor of this destructive and wholly unnecessary water scheme. Very few of the statements made by the applicants are even partly true.
Thus, Hetch Hetchy, they say, is "a low-lying meadow." On the contrary, it is a high-lying natural landscape garden. "It is a common minor feature, like thousands of others." On the contrary, it is a very uncommon feature, and after Yosemite, the rarest, most beautiful, and in many ways the most important feature of the park. "Damming it would enhance its beauty." As well say damming New York's Central Park would enhance its beauty. "Hetch Hetchy water is the purest and the only available source of supply for San Francisco." It is not the purest, because it drains a pleasure ground visited by hundreds of campers with their animals every season, and soon these hundreds will be thousands. And there are many other adequate and available sources of supply, though probably they would be somewhat more costly; and so with all their bad, cunning arguments, boldly advanced under the general ignorance of the subject.

John Muir


Memorandum from John Muir, president the Sierra Club, received May 14, 1908, by J. Horace McFarland, president American Civic Association and read into the Congressional Record "San Francisco and the Hetch Hetchy reservoir," Hearing held before the committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, December 16, 1908.

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