Raising Shasta Dam may be too “Dam” High to Work




By Naomi Fisher

Will the heightening of Shasta Dam become a stomping of powerful Federal boots upon weaker California State Laws? An interesting concept. Will the Feds usurp CA law after President Trump has stated emphatically there should be less Federal control and more control should go back to the States.

CA State Law prohibits the 602-foot New Deal-era Shasta Lake Dam from getting any taller. That would also affect the McCloud River, a pristine California river protected by the 1972 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, prohibiting the state from allowing any projects that disturb such rivers.

BUT, CA House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, and David Bernhardt, the former Westlands Water District lobbyist, now #2 official at the Interior Department have joined  President Trump, his Administration and Westlands Water District in doing their best to have CA’s Shasta Lake Dam heightened – anywhere from 6½ feet to 18½  feet, calling it the “California WaterFix Project.”

Representative Kevin McCarthy and members of Congress, were/are “maneuvering to slip an amendment into a bill without hearings or other public scrutiny, to ensure Westlands Water District, one of the biggest beneficiaries of a heightened dam, would NOT be required to help pay for it. Westlands’ allies in Congress are working to exempt it from a new federal law that requires state agencies to share in the cost.” If that Federal bill passes, Federal taxpayers would front the entire cost.

The extra water held by the dam supposedly will benefit down river farmers, almond and pecan growers, ranchers and cities in So CA, particularly in drought years. In all fairness, Representative McCarthy says such projects that increase the state’s water storage capacity are “absolutely critical.” I agree, Representative McCarthy. But not by raising Shasta Dam. On the surface, the project sounds great.

However, there are serious concerns:

    1) The California WaterFix Project will also install two aqueducts, titled, “Twin Tunnels”. Water from those Twin Tunnels would inundate several miles of the McCloud River, a violation of CA State Law.

    2) Environmentalists and the Natural Resources  Defense Council are concerned those 40′ diameter Twin Tunnel aqueducts will make it impossible for migrating fish to return to spawning grounds and  hasten the extinction of winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, and many other imperiled fish species.

    3) Might the adding of extra feet cause a weak seam in the dam? It’s not a part of the original, continuous pouring. It is my understanding that the structural integrity of a dam is designed with, height, width and thickness determining the amount of water the dam can hold back. Will that seam compromise the dam’s structural integrity? Will it withstand a major earthquake when the dam is full?

    4) A recent scare was the San Francisco Hetch Hetchy Dam almost failing. Another warning went out in our last storm. Do we really want to risk such a disaster with Shasta Dam?

    5) Several American Indian Tribes including the Winnemem Wintu Tribe on the McCloud  River will drastically be affected. Higher dam water would cover much of the sacred ground it has left.  Their Chief, Caleen Sisk-Franco said his tribe “has lived on the banks of the McCloud River for thousands of years…These sacred places help keep the tribe healthy. They help keep it balanced and they help us to heal…there is no replacement. There’s not an option to move it.”

Members of several tribes joined with the Restore the Delta movement and both commercial and recreational fishing groups to protest the Trump administration’s water grab and
other groups filed lawsuits stating the dam would “exacerbate the Delta’s severe ecological decline.”


Question:  How many promises and treaties with our country’s Indians have we broken so far? How many more is our Government going to break before we, the public finally stand up and say, “Enough!”

Mindy McIntyre, a water specialist at the nonprofit Planning and Conservation League, said, “We need to come up with permanent solutions that will increase flexibility…rather than reinvesting in the very projects that caused the problem.”

I agree Ms McIntyre.

Other solutions are being proposed. Such as:

    A) “The proposed reservoir at Sites, CA, wouldn’t dam any trout streams. “It’s an off-stream reservoir, filled with the same…winter runoff that would fill a larger Lake Shasta. According to a study completed 14 years ago, Sites could store three times more water than the increased capacity from a Shasta Dam that’s 18.5 feet higher….”

    B) “Residents of this region, including the largest landowner in the Sites Valley, overwhelmingly support the water storage proposal.  Farmers and business leaders assert that the project, capable of holding 1.8 million acre-feet of water, would keep irrigated farms in business, establish a new recreation area and the economic activity that would accompany it, and help ensure the survival of endangered salmon runs in the nearby Sacramento River.”

    That makes a whole lot more sense than raising Shasta Dam.

    C) New Study: WaterFix Is Unnecessary for SoCal’s Water Supply   “Water generated from big new storage projects costs substantially more than water from water use efficiency, stormwater capture, groundwater cleanup, and water recycling projects,” [said] Doug Obegi, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Also being talked about is  repairing the levees in California’s delta region so they can hold more water and let it seep into the aquifer. In Southern California, there used to be “settling grounds”, i.e., catchment basins, that caught the overflow from swollen rivers, held that water and let it seep into the aquifer. Perhaps ALL of California would not suffer the consequences of drought years if these and other measures the experts could come up with were put into place.

My suggestion to President Trump, “The above negatives far outweigh raising Shasta Dam when better options already exist and other permanent solutions need to be found.”

Shasta Dam, file

Naomi Fisher is a resident of Ventura County

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