Chapter

Water, Earthquake, and Fire

Robert W. Righter

in The Battle Over Hetch Hetchy

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780195149470
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199788934 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195149470.003.0004
Water, Earthquake, and Fire

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Two leaders emerged as San Francisco pursued the valley: Mayor James Phelan and naturalist John Muir. Both were determined and led strong constituencies, and each held competing views of the meaning of progress. Phelan was convinced a great dam symbolized human determination and ingenuity, and would enhance nature. Muir was skeptical that humans could improve on nature, and certainly not in the mountain sanctuary of Hetch Hetchy. John Muir and the Sierra Club held the upper hand until the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 intervened to change everything. The prostrate city with four square miles of its heart in smoldering ruins became an object of both pity and charity. Who could deny the city its desire for abundant water? Furthermore, many blamed the fire on the privately-owned Spring Valley Water Company. San Francisco reapplied for a permit. With the support of US Forest Service chief Gifford Pinchot and the sympathy of Secretary of the Interior James Garfield, the city felt assured that soon its engineers would be damming the Hetch Hetchy Valley and building an aqueduct to transport the water to the city.

Keywords: James Phelan; John Muir; San Francisco Earthquake; Fire of 1906; Spring Valley Water Company; Gifford Pinchot; James Garfield

Chapter.  9022 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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