The Shasta County Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction that halts Fresno-based Westlands Water District from working on the Shasta Dam and Reservoir Enlargement Project aimed at raising Shasta Dam. In the end, it was the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that put the project on hold.
Lawyers for EarthJustice and the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra had filed the lawsuit to stop the project in May, claiming that raising the dam would have adverse effects on the McCloud River, which is protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. For the time being, Westlands will have to stop all work going towards the project, which included plans to award a construction bid by the end of the year.
“The court has stopped Westlands Water District from moving forward with a project that would hurt the people and environment in our state,” Becerra said in a news release. “Maybe others believe they’re above the law and can get away with it. But, in California, we’re prepared to prove otherwise.”
The proposal to raise Shasta Dam by 18 1/2 feet is currently being researched by a $20 million grant allocated by the federal government, which was approved by Congress in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. The plan, aimed at increasing California water storage and helping central valley farmers, is predicted by officials to cost around $1.3 billion. Westlands had committed to paying for half of the project, with the other half coming from local and state partners.
In 2018, Congress approved the commitment of $20 million for research on the project. But since congress has since passed from Republican to Democrat control, it’s been assumed that the project wouldn’t move much further.
The California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act has been the major obstacle to the project, with water agencies even lobbying to have the law changed for years. Westlands has been so committed to the project that they even bought 3,000 acres of land along the McCloud River, including the Bollibokka Fly Fishing Club, with hope their ownership could help sway the interpretation of the law.
In the end, the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act has proven to be an ironclad roadblock to the raising of the Shasta Dam. And although this legal battle is likely to live on for years to come, the dam won’t be raised anytime soon.