Suddenly, the fight to restore Hetch Hetchy is getting interesting.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren, a Republican, reopened the public discussion about draining the reservoir that supplies water for San Francisco by writing a letter to the Interior Department in December.
Lungren has never much been associated with the environment, but he faces a well-funded Democratic challenger, Ami Bera, in a swing seat this year.
On the question of Hetch Hetchy, he finds himself in cahoots with a lawyer who represents California Democrats, a former California Democratic Party executive director, and a longtime Democratic insider. They're all determined to drain and restore Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park.
"Trying to remedy one of the worst environmental travesties in California knows no partisan bounds," Lungren's campaign aide, Rob Stutzman told me with a straight face, more or less.
Lance Olson, the Democratic attorney, is a director of Restore Hetch Hetchy, as is Kathy Bowler, the party's former executive director. Olson, Bowler and Democratic operative Dan Eaton are organizing a reception next Wednesday evening in downtown Sacramento to discuss "our considerable legal and political efforts including a 2012 ballot initiative in San Francisco" to retore the valley.
A Hetch Hetchy initiative headed for the local San Francisco ballot this November could be a donneybrook. Statewide fights over taxes and capital punishment could pale by comparison. If Lungren wants to join the effort, he no doubt could help sway the dozen or so Republicans who still live in San Francisco.
"We could use them all," said Eaton, who was chief of staff to Fabian Núñez when Núñez was Assembly speaker, and is offering strategic advice to the coming campaign.
The measure, which would be submitted to the San Francisco city attorney next week, would require the city to embark on a process to put itself "on a path toward reforming San Francisco's 19th century water system and reversing the damage done to the environment over the last 100 years," said Mike Marshall, executive director of Restore Hetch Hetchy.
The bar for placing a measure on the San Francisco ballot is ridiculously low, 9,500 valid signatures. Marshall figures the campaign would cost $500,000, tops. They already have a bona fide celebrity, who narrates a campaign-style video that opens with a majestic shot of Yosemite.
"How would you feel if someone suggested building a dam in Yosemite Valley, flooding a priceless treasure under a giant lake? Well, that's exactly what happened to the Hetch Hetchy Valley.
"This is Harrison Ford inviting you to join in the historic campaign to restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley. Help us return this national treasure to the American people."
The action hero narrowly escaped Nazis, snakes and mummies when he played Indiana Jones. But he never had to tangle with the likes of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is among the most formidable opponents of messing with San Francisco's water supply, as I witnessed back in 1987.
As the Reagan administration was drawing to a close, Interior Secretary Donald Hodel leaked his desire to drain Hetch Hetchy to, who else, the New York Times, which gushed about the grand possibilities of restoring wildland 3,000 miles from its Manhattan headquarters.
On an autumn day in October 1987, Hodel, wearing cowboy boots and jeans, and then San Francisco Mayor Feinstein, wearing a burgundy-colored dress, squared off atop O'Shaughnessy Dam, with the Hetch Hetchy reservoir as the backdrop.
"Yosemite National Park is America's birthright, not any individual city's," Hodel said at the time.
Then as now, Feinstein questioned how to replace pristine Sierra runoff for the millions of people who depend on it. There also was the matter of bugs. If the reservoir were drained, she warned, Hetch Hetchy Valley would revert to a swamp populated by voracious mosquitoes.
Hodel responded that mosquitoes were a problem in the days before DEET. Brave words, spoken by a guy who evidently never has tangled with Yosemite's vicious mosquitoes.
Eaton and others are convinced that all those problems can be resolved. Besides, the restoration would be employ thousands of construction workers, and be a legacy for politicians who embrace it.
No city in America prides itself on its environmental credentials more than San Francisco. If the initiative goes forward, Hetch Hetchy's defenders could have a hard time explaining to some voters why they shouldn't support a process that would lead to the dismantling of O'Shaughnessy Dam. Lungren would be happy to pitch in if environmentalists need help swaying any Republicans still in San Francisco.