Opinion: Dear Federal Government, Don’t Lay a Hand on our Beloved Shasta Dam

The federal government is fast tracking a plan to raise the Shasta Dam, already the 8th highest dam in the country, by nearly two stories. The plan, aimed at increasing California water storage and helping central valley farmers, is predicted by officials to cost around $1.3 billion. While D.C. politicians have temporarily stalled more research on the project, the proposal still has a lot of life in Washington.

I personally don’t think this project has any chance of coming to fruition any time soon, but I think it’s important to educate people just what this project would mean for NorCal. Also, the federal government wants to immediately allocate $20 million for more research on the project, which would amount to a giant waste of taxpayer money.

Before I get into why increasing the size of Shasta Dam is a really bad idea, let me first reiterate that this isn’t a Republican versus Democrat issue. This issue is backed and opposed to by both Republicans and Democrats. Some California Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, have backed this project for the past 20 years. And now the project is being revived by Republicans.

In my honest opinion, this project is simply SoCal versus NorCal, with a major boost from special interest groups. While I think everyone is rooting for the farmers of California’s central valley to succeed, this is not the plan to help them out. Here are seven reasons why we can’t let the federal government touch our beloved Shasta Dam:

1. It Will Alter the Entire Shasta Landscape

To raise the size of the dam by 18.5 feet the government would need to replace five bridges, 34,000 feet of roadways, two railroad bridges, modify another railroad bridge, realign railroad tracks, and modify or replace nine marinas, six boat ramps, six resorts, 328 campsites, 12 miles of trails, two trailheads and relocate utilities.

We’re talking about altering the entire Shasta Lake, Sacramento River, McCloud River and all of the Marinas and businesses that sit near the lake. In essence, everything would have to be moved up to deal the the massive increase in water in the reservoir.

Let’s also consider the negative change this could bring to the wildlife surrounding the reservoir and subsequent tributaries. How will salmon and fish populations deal with this change? Of all studies done to date, none think it will have a positive effect.

2. The Cost

It’s been projected that the entire cost of the project, including rebuilding all of the bridges and railroad tracks, would cost approximately $1.3 billion. Give me a second while I spit out my coffee…. (PFFFFT!)

Not only is that way too much tax money to spend on a project of this nature, that’s a gross under-projection.

Let’s consider the recent rebuilding of the Oroville Dam spillway, which the government initially allocated $274 million budget and it ended up costing more than $1 billion. To think they can increase the Shasta Dam while also altering the entire infrastructure of the area for nearly the same cost to fix a spillway is insulting.

Meanwhile, California refuses to put any money into the project. So where does all this money come from?

3. It Would Ruin Sacred Native American Land

When the Shasta Dam was built in the 1940’s, the Winnemen Wintu tribe lost their homes, burial sites, sacred places and all runs of native salmon to the raised water along the McCloud River. A sacred part of the tribe’s culture, Puberty Rock, is already half submerged under water during higher water levels. Raising the water level would submerge the sacred monument forever, ostensibly erasing the physical legacy of the tribe.

4. The Stench of Special Interest Groups

The question must be asked – why the heck do the politicians in Washington D.C. care so much about California water storage? The answer seems to lie with David Bernhardt, who is a former lobbyist for Westland Water District and currently sits as the No. 2 official at the Interior Department.

Westland Water District is a powerful water distributor in central California, who have pushed hard for this project for decades so they can receive more water from NorCal and sell it to developers in SoCal for a profit. They don’t care about the beautiful landscape of our NorCal reservoirs. They only care about increased profits.

This project has been put on the back-burner for nearly a decade but now with Bernhardt at the helm, it’s seen an energetic revival. Let’s protect our NorCal landmarks from greedy special interest groups.

5. It’s Not Our Problem

I was born in Southern California and although I grew up in NorCal, I still have a small affinity for my place of birth. That being said, their water storage problem is not our problem. Thirsty SoCal residents sit 550 miles from Shasta Lake, meaning they should have zero say on how our area if changed in the name of their water problems.

While we sit in the same state as SoCal, us NorCalers know we are worlds apart from our smog-breathing counterparts. We shouldn’t have to change our lives to fix their problems.

6. It’s Illegal

The Wild and Scenic Waters Act was created by Congress in 1968 to “preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” The McCloud river is protected under such act and raising the dam would cause significant changes to the river.

As a precaution against the Wild and Scenic Waters Act, Westlands Water District purchased a 7-mile stretch along the river in 2007. During the Obama Administration, the plan was curbed after federal officials deemed the project could never get around the law.

Now, federal officials will do whatever they can to cater to special interest groups and interrupt the magnificent flow of the McCloud River. We can’t let that happen.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Should the federal government be able to push their project on us without state approval? Let us know in the comments.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


  1. “While we sit in the same state as SoCal, us NorCalers know we are worlds apart from our smog-breathing counterparts. We shouldn’t have to change our lives to fix their problems.”

    Just how I felt when I as a so caler, was taxed to rebuild San Francisco after their earthquake. Seems that the state, having only one capitol, one governor, etc., works on the basis of including ALL state residents’ concerns and needs. I get where you’re coming from, but being divisive like this isn’t a problem solving attitude. Separating “family” destroys it. We are all Californians. We need to remember that in all our state wide decisions.

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