Herrera statement on CA Supreme Court declining case that sought to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

The decision is the latest that protects the source of clean water for 2.6 million Bay Area residents and emissions-free hydropower

San Francisco City Engineer Michael O’Shaughnessy, who led the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir project, is honored with a bust at City Hall.

SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 17, 2018) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued the following statement after the California Supreme Court today denied review of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir case, upholding a lower court’s decision dismissing a lawsuit that sought to drain the drinking water source for 2.6 million Bay Area residents:

“The court made the right decision. This lawsuit was misguided from the start. Attempting to drain a reservoir that provides emissions-free hydroelectric power and clean drinking water to 2.6 million Bay Area residents is a terrible idea. The last thing California needs to do right now is jeopardize pristine drinking water for millions of residents. San Francisco voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea of draining Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in 2012, and I’m pleased we have been able to uphold the will of the voters. At every step of the way, the courts have recognized that San Francisco was using this water lawfully. That should no longer be in dispute.”

Case Background
In its lawsuit filed in 2015, the Oakland, Calif.-based advocacy organization, “Restore Hetch Hetchy,” sought to drain the century-old reservoir that serves the water needs of 2.6 million Bay Area residents and provides clean hydroelectric power. They alleged that the operation of the O’Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir violate the California Constitution. Herrera’s office countered that the lawsuit was preempted by federal law, and time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations.
In April 2016, a Tuolumne County Superior Court judge rejected Restore Hetch Hetchy’s challenge and granted Herrera’s motion to dismiss the case. In doing so, the Sonora, Calif.-based judge largely agreed with Herrera’s arguments that the plaintiffs’ proposed constitutional interpretation was both pre-empted by federal law (specifically the Raker Act of 1913) and also time-barred by nearly nine decades.
A three-judge panel of the California Fifth District Court of Appeal unanimously affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the case in July 2018.
The case is: Restore Hetch Hetchy v. City and County of San Francisco et al., Tuolumne County Superior Court, Case No. CV 59426, filed April 21, 2015; Court of Appeal Case No. F074107.  For additional information on the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, visit www.sfcityattorney.org.