Big Dam Mess

The Environmental Defense Fund embarks on a national campaign to shame San Francisco into restoring the other great Yosemite valley, Hetch Hetchy. But is shame really a good political strategy?

Still, it's almost impossible not to feel inspired by George Miller, John Muir, and Adam Werbach's strain of aesthetically motivated environmentalism, which focuses on preserving the most physically beautiful portions of the natural world. After all, it should be possible to devise a Hetch Hetchy restoration plan with few adverse environmental side effects, and with little financial harm to San Francisco, as long as the massive engineering and political problems a restoration would entail were dealt with straightforwardly.

Whether restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley costs $2 billion or $10 billion, it's really not a large amount in federal budget terms. San Francisco's currently constructing a 15-block subway tunnel that will likely cost around $1 billion. What's a few billion more to restore one of America's greatest natural treasures?

After all, "spending money is always good politics," Werbach wryly notes.

The real challenge for San Francisco, and its powerful congressional delegation, is to see the true value in restoring one of the most beautiful places in the universe, in spite of the upcoming Environmental Defense campaign.

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