The Trump Administration is pushing to increase the size of Shasta Dam by about two stories, an enterprise that would cost a projected $1.3 billion. California is fighting back against the project, claiming increasing the size of the 602-foot dam would be illegal.
It seems as if this battle will be dragged out for a long time.
Water storage sits at the heart of this proposal. With increased extremes in weather patterns hitting California, federal officials are looking for ways to increase water supply throughout the state. The size increase to the dam would significantly alter the landscape, including the McCloud River which is protected by the 1972 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
This issue is not a red versus blue issue, but rather a state versus federal issue.
This project has many constitutional intricacies, with arguments held on both sides about what the federal government can do on its land within a state. The federal government claims they can alter any structure on their own land. They state argues it will have a vast effect on state land protected by conservation laws. So who will win out in this battle?
Only the future will tell if the federal government will pour concrete without the permission of Sacramento. After all, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act could prevent the state from issuing any permits to build on the land. And there are people throughout the state who support and oppose the project.
Central Valley farmers claim the project is integral for the future of farming in California. Water shortages have been plaguing farmers for years, and the need for more water is becoming a louder cry throughout the farming community.
Meanwhile, environmentalists and fishing industry groups claim the project would create significant problems for the ecosystem, particularly for salmon. It’s also opposed by the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, who claim the project will trespass onto the little bit of sacred ground in the area they have left.
And in the middle of all of the controversy sits David Bernhardt, who is a former lobbyist for Westland Water District and currently sits as the No. 2 official at the Interior Department. His push to fast track this project has served as a red flag to many as Westland stands to gain significantly from increased water storage north of the Central Valley.
Heightening the dam is not a new concept. This project has been proposed for over a decade, with support across both sides of the aisle, including Democrats like Dianne Feinstein. But the project was put on hold during the Obama Administration due to fears of breaking conservation law. Now it’s back on track, even without state support.
Without the support of California, if this project were to move forward, it would be at the cost of the federal taxpayer, not the state. This would have significant ramifications in the state versus federal debate.
For now, the federal government has allocated $20 million to begin designing the larger dam. We’ll see how this unfolds.