The House Republican budget set to be unveiled by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Tuesday proposes to balance the federal budget in ten years. Among the many and varied measures proposed by the House Budget Committee chair to save money and raise new revenues: charging the City of San Francisco more for its use of water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
The proposal, under the heading “Reflect Current Value for the Use of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir,” reads as follows:
Since 1913, the city of San Francisco has paid an annual $30,000 fee or less to the federal government for its use of the O’Shaughnessy Dam and the accompanying Hetch Hetchy Reservoir within Yosemite National Park. San Francisco generates approximately $40 million in annual hydropower revenues from the Hetch Hetchy system, yet it has only paid at most $30,000 annually- or eight cents an acre foot of water for almost 100 years- not indexed to inflation. This proposal would remove the century-old fee structure to the city without affecting wholesale customers and irrigation districts.
The proposal is sure to raise heckles among Democrats in California’s congressional delegation, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who once served as Mayor of San Francisco and who has described the water from Hetch Hetchy as a “birthright” to which the city’s residents are entitled.
Ryan made a similar proposal in his 2013 budget. His staff told Breitbart News that the new fee structure would save the federal government an estimated $2 million per year, a small amount relative to the overall budget.
In 2004, the Bush administration also proposed to charge San Francisco more for its use of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, raising the cost from $30,000 to $8 million annually. In 2012, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) went further, proposing that San Francisco pay $34 million for the water, arguing that the low current fee was a subsidy for urban dwellers at the expense of farmers.
In recent years, environmentalists have targeted Hetch Hetchy for a different reason: they want to see the dam dismantled entirely, so that the waters of the Tuolumne River may run free, and so that the river gorge can be restored to its former, scenic state. Some Republicans, including former Rep. Dan Lungren of California, have made similar proposals in the past.
A ballot measure in 2012 asking San Francisco voters to support a study of proposals to dismantle the O’Shaughnessy Dam and empty the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was unsuccessful.