WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on Tuesday drove a stake through President Bush's proposal to study draining Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the storied place some thought could once again rival Yosemite Valley.
But in truth, the idea was dead on arrival several months ago.
In a multibillion-dollar Interior Department funding bill, lawmakers pointedly declined to include money needed to study the Hetch Hetchy proposal. Bush had sought $7 million to begin studying the idea of draining the reservoir and restoring the once-famous valley in Yosemite National Park.
Forget it, lawmakers said.
"This highly controversial proposal, with a potential cost of as much as $10 billion, was not well justified in the budget materials," the House Appropriations Committee noted.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has likewise omitted Hetch Hetchy funding in its version of the fiscal 2008 spending bill, which the Senate panel approved last week. Although the House and Senate have yet to negotiate their final spending bill, there's no chance the Hetch Hetchy money will be included.
"We felt from the very beginning that this didn't have a huge chance of getting funded," Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman acknowledged Tuesday.
Yosemite officials admitted being caught by surprise when the Bush administration included the Hetch Hetchy study funding in the proposed fiscal 2008 budget in February. The $7 million would have helped evaluate the environmental and economic consequences of removing the O'Shaugnessy Dam.
Authorized by Congress in 1913, the 312-foot-high dam stores water coveted by San Francisco. The filling of the reservoir also buried a valley much beloved by Sierra Club founder John Muir, and environmentalists have periodically resurrected the notion of restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley to its past splendor.
A state study last summer concluded that valley restoration would be technically feasible but also would cost between $3 billion and $10 billion. State officials added that more federal studies would be needed.
Even with this background, though, there were no discernible political fingerprints on the Bush budget proposal this year. Neither the National Park Service nor the White House's Office of Management and Budget admitted to having anything to do with the Hetch Hetchy spending request.
"We tried a couple of different ways to find out how that money got in there," said Spencer Pederson, spokesman for Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., "and we just kept running into a dead end."
A Republican administration last publicly discussed restoring Hetch Hetchy in the late 1980s, when skeptics dismissed the notion as a bit of political judo. By defending the existing reservoir with its 360,000 acre-feet of water, liberal San Francisco area politicians clashed with their customary allies in the environmental groups, which favor the valley restoration idea.
The Office of Management and Budget already has threatened a presidential veto of the House's Interior Department spending bill, contending it includes "an irresponsible and excessive level of spending."
The White House's official policy statement, though, made no reference to the omission of funding for the Hetch Hetchy study, and Radanovich noted that the administration seemed to drop the idea quickly.
"There really wasn't that much of an effort behind it," Radanovich said.