Michael Maurice O'Shaughnessy
Michael Maurice O'Shaughnessy was born on May 28, 1864 in Jointer, Ireland. His father, Patrick O'Shaughnessy and his mother Margaret O'Donnell were prosperous farmers. Michael attended various schools in County Limerick and County Tipperary and did well in his studies. He went on to study at University College in Cork and the University of Galway before graduating with honors from the Royal University in Dublin in 1884.
In 1885, after failing to find work in London, O'Shaughnessy decided to go to the United States in search of employment. He sailed from London to New York and then took the train to San Francisco arriving on March 30, 1885. His first job was with the Sierra Valley and Mohawk Railroad as an assistant engineer. In 1886 he was employed by the Southern Pacific Railroad as a surveyor and assisted in laying out the towns of Mill Valley and Sausalito. In 1889 he opened a general engineering office in San Francisco. In 1890 he was appointed chief engineer for the California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park. In 1895, he was commissioned by the Mountain Copper Company to draw up plans for their narrow-gauge railroad. At about this same time he also worked on projects for the Spring Valley Water Company.
In 1889 O'Shaughnessy left San Francisco to design and oversee the construction of several major water supply projects in the Hawaiian Islands. Returning to the mainland in 1906 he became involved first in the Morena Dam project for San Diego and then the Merced River Dam for the Crocker Land and Development Company. He also designed and supervised the construction of a water supply system for Port Costa before San Francisco Mayor "Sunny Jim" Rolph selected him to be Chief Engineer for the City of San Francisco on September 1, 1912. O'Shaughnessy was not certain that he wanted the position because, in the past, the city had not always paid him for work done. His wife, the former Mary Spottiswood, a native of San Francisco, convinced him to accept. In this position O'Shaughnessy supervised the construction of the Twin Peaks Reservoir, the Stockton Street Tunnel, the Twin Peaks Tunnel, the Municipal Railway System and numerous streets, avenues and boulevards in the city.
O'Shaughnessy's largest, most famous, and most controversial undertaking was the Hetch Hetchy Project. San Francisco was still recovering from the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 and had the sympathy of many, not only in California, but also in Washington D.C. It was obvious that the city would grow rapidly in the years ahead and it was equally obvious that it's current water supply was inadequate to meet it's future needs. The Hetch Hetchy Project envisioned a dam in the Sierra Mountains linked by more than 150 miles of tunnels, pumping stations, and pipelines to San Francisco. The fact that the dam was to be built in Yosemite National Park stimulated an enormous amount of opposition. One of the most potent opponents was the Sierra Club and it's President, John Muir. Muir felt that the Hetch Hetchy Canyon was one of the major features of Yosemite Park and should not be flooded. In his view the dam could and should be built elsewhere.
The political fight went on for some time but on December 19, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill authorizing the necessary land grants. Construction on the huge project commenced in 1914. There are a variety of statistics available concerning the project and most of them differ slightly. According to the American Society of Engineers, water impounded by the dam flows through 37.7 miles of tunnels and pipes to the San Joaquin Valley, then 47.5 miles through a pipeline across the valley, then through 29.1 miles of tunnels penetrating the Coast Mountain Range, then 21.2 miles of pipes along and under the southern end of San Francisco Bay, and finally 19.6 miles under the Bay to San Francisco.
O'Shaughnessy lost control of the project in 1932 when the Public Utilities Commission was formed. Edward Cahill was appointed to head up the new commission and O'Shaughnessy's deputy, Lloyd McAfee, was appointed manager and Chief Engineer for the Hetch Hetchy project. O'Shaughnessy died of a heart attack on October 12, 1934, just sixteen days before Yosemite's water reached San Francisco. The dam that he built in Hetch Hetchy is officially known as O'Shaughnessy Dam. O'Shaughnessy Boulevard in San Francisco is another memorial to the controversial engineer. John Muir never reconciled himself to the project and environmentalists still believe that the dam is a travesty and should never have been built.