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California Redding Shasta Dam. (Photo: US Bureau of Reclamation)

Shasta Dam Enlargement Might be in Play If California Expects Federal Help

Saving fish is a symbol for environmentalist jobs, patronage and political clout

By Wayne Lusvardi, August 17, 2020 12:04 pm

In 1933, California was financially broke and unable to issue municipal bonds to complete its ambitious water system plans.  The state asked the Federal government to take over the project and the rest was history:  The statewide Central Valley Project (CVP) was built including Shasta Dam, the northernmost water storage reservoir in the federal water system.

During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Democrat Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt was deporting massive numbers of migrant laborers back to Mexico so that they could not be part of the New Deal.  Roosevelt made way for 400,000 of those displaced by the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma and Arkansas during the Depression to migrate to California’s Central Valley, where agricultural and construction jobs were needed. And to facilitate jobs imported water was needed from the north part of the state by the Sacramento River and from the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains through the San Joaquin River.  Tuberculosis and paralysis from polio due to bad water and the toils of migration were the plagues of the era.

Map showing raising Shasta Dam up to 18 feet. (Photo: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

Fast forward to 2020, without incurring massive debts, California is again effectively bankrupt to fill the budget hole it created by ordering a shut-down of the economy as part of a declared virus epidemic emergency.  Progressive policies are driving small businesspersons and the industrial working class out of California while the state is attempting to incentivize foreign in-migration with failed promises of “Medicare for all.”   Water for farmers in California has become a political football, as it is used by the Democrat majority to obtain political concessions.  Moreover, the main way the majority Democrat Party has been able to keep its environmentalist base is to deny imported water to farmers.  Saving fish is a symbol for environmentalist jobs, patronage and political clout and denying the same to Republican and independent voters.

Since 1959, California added only five new dams, three of them flood control dams and one a downstream storage dam (Diamond Valley Lake) that added no new water.  The Los Vaqueros Dam and Reservoir was built in 1998 but serves only Contra Costa County.

The Auburn Dam (2.3 million acre-feet of water) was initially proposed in the 1950’s, bounced around the legislature for decades, but was defeated by environmentalists in the 1980’s.

Since 1979, California voters have authorized 21 waterless water bonds totaling $32 billion and not one new source water reservoir has been built.

In 2014, California pulled off a fake play with its Proposition 1 Water Bond, which promised $2.7 billion for new dams.  Even the so-called impartial Ballotpedia stated Proposition 1 allocated $2.7 billion for “water storage projects, dams and reservoirs.”

But Proposition 1 was a “bait and switch” scheme that only really funded public recreation, fishing improvements at new dams. Moreover, the bond financing of dams by local water districts would have to allocate 50 percent its “public improvements” to “ecosystem improvements” to qualify for state funding.  So, 75 percent of state funds would have to go to pay off special interests of the Democrat Party to get 25 percent funding.

President Donald Trump is presently calling an old play of reviving a decades old proposal to raise the height of Shasta Dam. The dam was supposed to be built at a height of about 800 feet when built in the 1930s but ended up 602-feet high due to the Great Depression. Raising the dam 18-feet would increase the capacity of the reservoir by 14 percent or 630,000 acre-feet of water. That is enough water for 328-square miles of crop land but the annual yield would irrigate 26 square-miles per year.  That is about the same land area as the cities of Huntington Beach or Livermore.

California contends the proposal violates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. But as can be seen in the map above, the enlargement of the banks of the lake behind the dam would be minimal.  Ron Stork of Friends of the River stated, “Any bean counter would say this is crazy.  But this is a political dam.”

To use a football term, Trump has placed the ball in the “red zone” near the goal line in California’s game of political football over farm water.  Environmentalists say expanding the reservoir has been illegal since 1989. But Trump is a known as a deal maker and if California wants any concessions from the Federal government, the Shasta Dam enlargement might be in play. Or does Trump have a trick play?

The Bureau of Reclamation has plans to begin construction by 2024, but its biggest obstacles are obtaining environmental clearances and getting funding from a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, pending the outcome of the November national election.

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3 thoughts on “Shasta Dam Enlargement Might be in Play If California Expects Federal Help

  1. As a resort owner on Shasta Lake. All we want is an answer. Either enlarge the lake or put the project to bed. We are sick and tired of living with this issue hanging over or heads for the last 25 years. Please put politics aside and make a decision.
    Harold Jones,
    Sugarloaf Cottages Resort

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