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Another Dam Argument About Water

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What do you do when federal and state goals are at odds over a project within that state? What if the project itself is on federal land, but the work would affect large areas outside federal jurisdiction? Those are questions California and federal officials are arguing now in relation to expansion of the Shasta Dam.

The Trump administration is proposing to go ahead with a $1.3 billion project that would add roughly two stories’ worth of height to the 602-foot-high structure. The project has been under consideration—and hotly debated—for years. Although the dam is on federal land, California would need to issue permits for the work.

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Opponents within the state say the dam’s increased height and greater storage capacity would flood miles of the McCloud River, violating the state’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Some also say it would benefit those with close ties to the Trump administration. “Under California law, this is an illegal project,” said US Representative Jared Huffman. “The Trump administration would have to abrogate a century of federal deference to state laws on California water to go ahead with this.”

Many farmers in the area support the project, which would provide more water for crops like almonds; the drought has reduced some farms’ water allocations. You can read more about both sides of the debate in this article.

Many people within California favor capturing water and recharging the depleted aquifers rather than increasing the size of reservoirs. Some water authorities, like the Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County, are implementing new plans to do just that.

This is not the only debate currently ongoing over water storage options. Several weeks ago I wrote about a snag that some projects in California are facing as they try to increase water storage capacity in the face of ongoing drought. The State’s Proposition 1—formally, the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014—requires projects to demonstrate a public benefit above and beyond their primary purpose. A number of things currently on the table, including building new dams and increasing the size of the Los Vaqueros Reservoir, have been unable to show an additional public benefit, such as creating recreational opportunities or habitat for endangered species, and therefore are ineligible for state funding. EC_bug_web

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  1. In addition to flooding a section of a wild and scenic river, which is according to the statute is supposed to protect the wild and scenic qualities in perpetuity for all future generations, and must successfully demonstrate under rigorous scrutiny its worthiness of that designation to be included, a raise of the Shasta Dam would also inundate land ceded in treaty, and the current home of the Winneman Wintu. For both of these reasons alone, this project cannot legally be approved. There is no restriction preventing the water that is not captured after flowing through the existing reservoir, and after insuring adequate riparian habitat, from being used to recharge the aquifer, which is the best storage for future use. The era of dam building has passed. BOR and USACE take notice- there is plenty work for you building a 21st century water system, and you will not get anymore low hanging fruit from the antiquated 19th and early 20th century problem laden concepts.

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