SoCal water district supports raising of Shasta Dam
Some claim south state is after water
By Damon Arthur
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
The Metropolitan Water District voted Tuesday to make raising Shasta Dam one of its legislative priorities for 2013, a move some state water watchers said is another step by the Southern California agency to go after more north state water.
The district’s board of directors voted to “support administrative/legislative actions to remove existing prohibitions for state funding to raise Shasta Dam,” according to a board report listing its proposed state legislative priorities.
That translates to the beginning of a water grab from the federally operated dam, others said.
“It’s all about lobbying the state Legislature to get rid of wild and scenic designation for the McCloud River,” which would remove a barrier to raising the dam, said Tom Stokely, a water policy analyst for the California Water Impact Network.
District spokesman Bob Muir said the district backs raising the dam as part of its conceptual support for greater water storage in the state. He said he did not know what the state funding prohibitions were.
The MWD is a regional wholesaler that sells water to agencies that serve 19 million Southern California residents, Muir said.
“If there is an effort to raise Shasta Dam, the state should have a role as well,” Muir said. “Our board is interested in facilitating surface and groundwater storage around the state,” Muir said.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has for many years considered raising Shasta Dam. The project would cost an estimated $1.07 billion, according to a draft feasibility report that was released in February. The report also says the status of the McCloud River is one of two unresolved issues surrounding the proposal to raise the dam up to 18½ feet.
State law says the McCloud River “should be maintained in its free-flowing condition, and its wild trout fishery protected,” the draft feasibility report says.
Changing that law would remove one of the issues standing in the way of raising the dam, Stokely said. Lake Shasta is part of the federal Central Valley project, and the MWD gets water from the State Water Project, the Colorado River and other sources.
But with up to 14 percent more water in the lake, there would be more opportunities for selling and transferring some of that water among agencies, including the MWD, he said.
Raising the lake level would provide more water for agricultural and municipal water users in the state, as well as a more reliable source of cold water for salmon and steelhead that migrate up the Sacramento River to spawn, the bureau’s report says.
The other unresolved issue is the Winnemem Wintu’s claim that raising the lake level 18½ feet would flood areas that are culturally and religiously important to the tribe.
While agricultural interests benefit from raising the dam, taxpayers would have to pay for it, Stokely said.
“Raising Shasta Dam is a scam on the taxpayers,” he said.
Muir would not comment on whether the district was interested in purchasing water from Lake Shasta.
Ron Stork, policy director for Friends of the River, said the McCloud River is not an official state wild and scenic river, but it is protected under the state’s public resources code.
He agreed with Stokely that the MWD’s action Tuesday is about having the McCloud River “de-designated” to pave the way for raising the dam and providing more water to the MWD.
“That is what that item is all about,” Stork said, referring to the MWD board’s action Tuesday.
It wouldn’t be the first attempt to delist a river, he said. Congress has voted to remove a portion of the Merced River from the federal wild and scenic river system, but the U.S. Senate and Obama administration oppose it, Stork said.