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Fate of Upper Spring Lake in Court

In 1970 Beth Martineau fought the Conservation Commission (the predecessor of the Department of Natural Resources) over access to Upper Spring Lake in Palmyra Wisconsin as they attempted to add the property to the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

Now, the fate of Upper Spring Lake is once again back in court.  The original dam was washed out while the current owners were under negotiations to buy the property out of bankruptcy.  When the deal went through, the owners worked with the DNR to rebuild and improved, modern dam; spending about $1 million in the process.


As part of the dam permitting, the creek became a navigable waterway and canoers and kayakers were allowed to portage past the dam.  As more visitors arrived, some quite carelessly and with little respect for the water and surrounding lands, the owners posted “Private Property” signs.  It will be up to the courts to decide if in the fact it is private property or DNR land.


Beth Martineau was ruled to own “as much land as the water covered when the water at the old dam was 13 feet, 4 inches deep. Because it was somewhat lower in 1972, the judge said Martineau also had a strip of dry land varying from 6 to 50 feet around the water’s edge.”  The DNR is claiming the owners are exceeding the 13-foot-4-inch water level behind the dam, meaning more water is impounded and trespassing on state forest land that surrounds the lake.

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Yosemite Valley’s Twin Sacrificed for Drinking Water

Yosemite Valley is a glacial valley in the Sierra Nevada, part of the Yosemite National Park, drawing close to 3.7 million visitors annually. The Hetch Hetchy Valley is virtually an identical twin to Yosemite Valley, but you will never see its stunning rock formations and dramatic waterfalls. With steep valley walls, a narrow outlet and 3,812 feet in elevation, it was the perfect site for a reservoir.

Hetch Hetchy Before Dam

Hetch Hetchy Before Dam

At 5:12am on Wednesday, April 18, 1906 an earthquake of between 7.7 and 8.25 in magnitude struck San Francisco. Fires broke out and destroyed nearly 80% of the city as the already inadequate water supply failed. If San Francisco wanted to rebuild, it was apparent that a new source of water was badly needed.

Using the Hetch Hetchy’s Tuolumne River as a water source was proposed 50 years before the earthquake, but the devastation was enough to motivate government officials to authorize the development of the river. Wilderness conservation was at its early stages and to appease the arguments, permission was given to flood the valley under the condition that the power and water it provided could only be used for the public good, with no private profit derived.

The O’Shaughnessy Dam began construction in 1919 and was completed in 1923. Construction of the 137-mile pipeline that would eventually carry the Hetch Hetchy’s water to San Francisco was able to begin, as was the construction of hydroelectric power stations and the lines they would use to transmit that power to the city. Unfortunately, the city of San Francisco ran out of money to fund the project in 1925 – coincidentally as it reached Pacific Gas & Electric’s newly constructed substation, just across the San Francisco Bay.

Hetch Hetchy After Dam

Hetch Hetchy After Dam

PG&E announced that the company would temporarily take over the delivery of that power to the city, buying the power from it and selling it back to its citizens at a profit. Legal challenges to the situation began in 1941 and still continue today as it is believed PG&E continues to profit from Hetch Hetchy’s water and power.

This is one of the largest and most successful gravity-fed and power-generating municipal water supply systems in the world today and it was built amidst protest and the argument to remove the dam continues today.  The flooding of the valley has not been an environmental disaster as protesters had thought; it provides over 2 million San Francisco residents with clean water and generates 1.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.  Many argue that without the reservoir, the Hetch Hetchy would become overdeveloped and overcrowded just as the Yosemite Valley is now.