Water and Land Use
The turn of the 20th century saw California come to a realization that the
resources that had drawn its population there needed to be managed with
intention. The days of stripping hillside bare in hydraulic mining operations,
and leveling forests flat to build towns down in the valleys, were no longer
able to operate with out public opposing attention.
In every battle there were always several sides to the issue in the wars
over water and land use. The Camp will be providing you with historical
accounts of what took place at the time, and also challenging you to join
us for a live debate on the same topics today.
Mountain Mining vs. Valley Farming
Water War of the 1860s
Railroad Land Grabs
The Yosemite Debate
The Wilderness vs. the City - the
Hetch Hetchy Battle
The Hetch Hetchy Debate
Mountain Mining vs. Valley Farming Water War of the 1860s
One of the first land and water use battles in the State took place in the
1860s during the rapid increase of hydraulic mining. Miners in the mountains,
no longer to enjoy the easy gold findings of the 1850s, were installing
forceful water mining systems (hydraulic) that tore the face of the mountains
in the search for gold. With the trees stripped off these mountains, the
soil quickly washed down into the rivers and muddied them, ruining the fishing,
and destroying the animal habitats that relied on these rivers. Then, when
the rains came, they rain came down with such force from these scarred hillsides
that the rivers rose faster and higher than ever before, flooding entire
towns in spite of their efforts to build dams and levies. The Valley residents
protested and tried to take their case to court, wanting to hold the miners
responsible for the damage their mountain operations were causing in the
valleys below. But the short-sighted courts settled in favor of the wealthy
miners, not recognizing the responsibility of the cause and effect their
operations put into motion.
Railroad Land Grabs
Another prominent battle of the early 1900s was the land battles over the
railroads that were taking a checkerboard of land as their claimed domain
where ever they laid their lines. These private companies, with government
approval to promote development, robbed private land owners of their property
with no say in the matter, and also impacted on Indian Reservations by cutting
in half the lands reserved in the railroad construction areas.
The Yosemite Debate
Yosemite is one of our nation's most valued national parks. However, Yosemite's
significance has not always been appreciated. Prior to 1890, only a small
segment of today's 1,200-square-mile park was protected by government, and,
prior to 1864, none of it was protected by law. The dominant mind-set of
the time was utilitarian: if it's there, use it. In other words, land served
an economic purpose and was meant to be used for mining, agriculture, logging,
or grazing livestock. Economic limitations often prevented the preservation
of beautiful places. Fortunately, there were people who sought to improve
America's cultural recognition in the world through enjoying its natural
wonders. There was also a vocal group of conservationists and thinkers such
as John Muir who passionately believed in the importance of protecting natural
areas. Through Muir's writing and lectures, many Americans became aware
of the grandeur of Yosemite. By camping with President Theodore Roosevelt
in Yosemite, Muir persuaded the president to create the national park system
and preserve America's natural treasures. To study up on your role in this
debate, we will refer to the Sierra Club's John Muir Study Guide. Click
here to read the ROLES students can take on during the debate. Then have
students answer the following questions from the view point of the person
they represent in the debate.
This debate allows you to enter John Muir's world of 1890. Through researching
and role-playing the battle to protect Yosemite as a national park, you
may gain an understanding of our nation's early voices debating the value
of setting aside vast tracts of land as parks. Furthermore, you may gain
insight into many of today's environmental arguments and understand the
many factors affecting any land use decision.
Students will make better progress in the debate if they write down some
initial ideas in advance of the debate. Develop each statement more clearly
as you do your research. As you prepare for and simulate the debate, keep
in mind the different ways of valuing the environment. Ask yourself which
ways your character values the environment and how those values affect the
course of the debate.
1. My Role:
2. My Beliefs in this Role:
3. Ways I Value the Environment in this Role:
4. My Argument in this Role:
5. My Own Beliefs on the Debate:
6. The Ways I Value the Environment in My Own Life:
7. How Do I Agree or Disagree with the Beliefs and Views of the Role I Played
in the Debate?
The Camp will be hosting debates for your students to interact online. Please
write to email@example.com to make a classroom debate reservation, or join a
pre-announced debate session where your classroom may be asked to represent
one view point, while other classrooms represent the other view points.
The Wilderness vs. the City - the Hetch Hetchy Battle
To get background on the people who became the environmental protection
pioneers of the early 1900s, visit the Camp resources under Turn of the
Century, with attention to the Adventurers Club and the Sierra Club. Many
of these same people were involved in the first major environmental battle
of California - the fight to build / or stop the building of the Hetch Hetchy
Resevoir that would shut off an entire valley adjacent to Yosemite in the
Sierra Nevada. San Francisco developers wanted the water that the Hetch
Hetchy could provide, even though there were other alternatives. Environmentalists,
scientists, and outdoorsmen fought bitterly in opposition, taking their
case all the way to Congress. The project was approved and built, and still
supplies water to San Francisco today. But it was the battle that raised
environmental consciousness as a national concern, and the backlash was
close public scrutiny of all future projects that might impact of natural
treasures held in common by the people of the United States.
Camp Internet thanks the Sierra Clubs valuable web site for providing access
to these resources.
The Hetch Hetchy as an example of
the 20th Cnetury wilderness/city challenge
The Hetch Hetchy Valley by John Muir 1873
The Hetch Hetchy Valley by John Muir 1908
Muir Testifies to Congress to Save the Hetch Hetchy
Robert Underwood Johnson Addresses Congress
The Sierra Clubs Brief Comments to Congress
and Developers Positions
Hetch Hetchy Timeline
The Ghosts of Hetch Hetchy
Hetch Hetchy Backlash
The Struggles Continue
The 21st Century Hetch Hetchy Restoration Challenge
Hetch Hetchy Debate
In our online debate series, we will also be hosting Hetch Hetchy debates.
Students will decide if they want to respond to questions in the debate
from the developers view point (Phelan), the environmentalists view point
(Muir), or the Congressional view point as the law makers deciding the fate
of this wilderness area. Study the historical materials above to understand
the differing viewpoints. Questions to prepare answers to in advance, from
a 1908 viewpoint, are :
1. Why does San Francisco need more water ?
2. Does San Francisco have other options for water ?
3. Should cities be built where water is or should water be brought to the
4. With San Francisco's history of tragic fires, and the recent devastation
of the 1906 earthquake and fire, is water also a safety issue?
5. Is nature present to serve man even at its own destruction ?
6. Does a city have the right to put the needs of its people above the needs
of the wilderness ( plants, animals, mountains and rivers ) ?
7. Is the savings of money to bring people needed water worth the destruction
of irreplaceable natural beauty ?
8. If our national parks are not safe from major construction projects,
how will they be kept
intact for future generations as was the intention with their founding ?
Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
to make a classroom debate reservation, or join a pre-announced debate session
where your classroom may be asked to represent one view point, while other
classrooms represent the other view points.