Here’s the real story.
And here’s today’s feel-good press release from SFGov:
“The Pen That Changed the Bay Area Forever
Bay Area Leaders Celebrate the Centennial of the Raker Act with a New City Hall Exhibit
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Today, Bay Area leaders joined the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) to celebrate the centennial of the signing of the Raker Act into law at a ceremony at San Francisco City Hall. The ceremony concluded with the unveiling of a new City Hall exhibit featuring the pen that President Woodrow Wilson used to sign the legislation 100 years ago today.
“The Raker Act enabled the construction of the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System and Hetch Hetchy Power System,” said SFPUC General Manager Harlan Kelly. “Once President Wilson signed the act into law, the San Francisco Bay Area began to construct a public water system that now serves 2.6 million people across four Bay Area counties. It also allowed for construction of a public power system that provides clean hydroelectric energy for San Francisco city services like public buses, schools, firehouses, and more.”
The Raker Act provided the rights of way to construct water and power facilities over federal land in Yosemite National Park and Stanislaus National Forest. Named after its chief sponsor John E. Raker, Congressman from Manteca, the bill granted the rights to build O’Shaughnessy Dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley, and construct water-collection and power-generating facilities stretching from the Sierras to the San Francisco Bay Area.
“The communities and businesses in the Bay Area were able to develop and thrive because of access to high quality water,” said Nicole Sandkulla, Chief Executive Officer of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA). “A true engineering marvel, this system supports the health and economic vitality of nearly 7% of California’s population.”
Despite, countless earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters, each day, 2.6 million people in the Bay Area turn on the tap and quench their thirst with Hetch Hetchy Water – some of the most pristine, cleanest water found anywhere in the world. While this water is delivered to its customers, the system also generates on average 1.7 billion kilowatts hours of clean, greenhouse gas-free electricity for San Francisco and its electricity customers. With no carbon footprint from its electricity supply, the SFPUC is considered one of the cleanest electric utilities anywhere.
The City Hall exhibit features a redwood plaque with a silver facsimile of the letter President Wilson wrote which explained his reasoning for signing the Raker Act. Mounted on the plaque is the actual pen the President used to sign the bill into law.
The plaque was originally presented to former San Francisco Mayor James Rolph, Jr. at the dedication of O’Shaughnessy Dam in 1923. Governor Rolph passed this heirloom on to his son, James Rolph III. Rolph was close friends with SFPUC Commissioner Oliver M. Rousseau, and because of this friendship he gave the plaque to Commissioner Rousseau. In 1970 Commissioner Rousseau officially presented the plaque to our commission as the logical and permanent home for such an historic piece. Until a few years ago, the location of the pen was lost to all. Curators have now refurbished the piece in time for its public debut in City Hall.
Passage of the Raker Act met with a great deal of opposition at the time, having more to do with protecting states and local water rights. Its most well-known opponent was John Muir, environmentalist and founder of the Sierra Club. The merits of the Act are still debated by some today.
“Love or hate the Raker Act, it is undeniable that its passage was truly historic for the San Francisco Bay Area,” concluded General Manager Kelly. “The Hetch Hetchy Regional Water and Power Systems have reliably served the region well for nearly 100 years.”