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Should California’s Biggest Reservoir Be Even Bigger?

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Water planners are exploring the possibility of expanding Shasta Dam, a concrete slab across the Sacramento River that forms California’s largest reservoir, Shasta Lake. A $1 billion proposal to raise the dam by as much as 18 and a half feet would expand the reservoir’s capacity by 634,000 acre feet, enough to supply more than a million families for a year. (Though how the water would be parceled out between farms, families and fish is still up for debate.)

Shasta Dam pic

Shasta Lake is the biggest reservoir in the state. (Bureau of Reclamation).

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam, held a series of public meetings in Redding, Sacramento and Los Banos on the controversial plan this week. Supporters say that the expansion is a cost-effective way for our thirsty state to increase its water storage capacity, but not everyone’s convinced it’s worth it. Members of the Winnemem Wintu tribe have historical ties to the land, and don’t want to see their sacred sites destroyed by flooding waters. Environmental groups worry about salmon runs, habitat loss and impacts to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Most of the land surrounding the lake is federal, but some nearby landowners have expressed opposition to enlarging the reservoir. Steve MacNeil owns property in Lakehead, a town near the lake. He says local businesses along the shoreline are concerned that the government might flood their land without adequate compensation.

“You’re talking about all of the permanent fixtures that are all going to have to be moved, relocated, disassembled, torn down,” said MacNeil. “At a cost to who?”

The Bureau of Reclamation is accepting public comments on its draft environmental impact statement until the end of September. In August the Bureau plans to announce another series of public meetings. A final report is scheduled for completion sometime next year. Ultimately the project requires Congressional approval, which, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, is unlikely to happen before 2016.

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Category: Environment, News, Water

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About the Author ()

Mike Osborne is currently finishing his PhD at Stanford where he studies climate change in the tropical Pacific. In his research he uses coral-based records (similar to tree rings) to examine El Nino and La Nina cycles over the past few centuries. Mike also created and co-produces the Generation Anthropocene podcast which features interviews and stories covering a wide range of 21st Century global change issues. He loves travel and is always looking for a reason to be outside.
  • Jerry Cadagan

    And how many times would an enlarged Shasta actually be filled? Damned few (pardon the pun). It would be a waste of money. Put the money into recycling existing sources of wastewater.

  • Itachee

    Just so everyone is on the same page, when Shasta was originally designed, and its construction began, it was to be 100 feet taller than in its current form. The demands for strategic materials, namely steel and cement.lead to construction on Shasta being stopped and the dam “topped off” at its current height. In other words, Shasta’s foundation, its lower construction, is suitable for raising the dam 100 feet subject to new, post WW II, structural requirements.

    And while I fully support water recycling, and have worked on many recycled water projects, the quantity of real wet water generated by recycling is comparatively small and it is Very costly