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Trump administration studies raising the height of Shasta Dam

Redding Record Searchlight logo Redding Record Searchlight 8/6/2020 Damon Arthur, Redding Record Searchlight
a bridge over a body of water with a mountain in the background: Visitors can see Mount Shasta in the distance over Lake Shasta and the Shasta Dam on Friday, April 24, 2020. © Matthew Brannon/Record Searchlight Visitors can see Mount Shasta in the distance over Lake Shasta and the Shasta Dam on Friday, April 24, 2020.

The decades-long battle over an effort to raise the height of Shasta Dam took another turn Thursday when the Trump Administration released a new environmental report on the plan, just five years after completing a similar study.

The most recent environmental study and feasibility report takes another look at how raising the height of Shasta Dam 18½ would affect the environment around Lake Shasta and downstream of the structure.

The report says there is new information to consider surrounding the effects of raising the dam, particularly on wetlands and the McCloud River, a protected stream that flows into Lake Shasta.

a building covered in snow: Ports on the Shasta Dam spillway send thousands of gallons of water down the face of the dam Monday. The amount of water released rose to 30,000 cubic-feet per second. © Damon Arthur/Record Searchlight Ports on the Shasta Dam spillway send thousands of gallons of water down the face of the dam Monday. The amount of water released rose to 30,000 cubic-feet per second.

“The Trump Administration is committed to delivering reliable water to Californians and throughout the West, and long overdue investments need to be made in California’s aging infrastructure to meet current demands,” Bureau Commissioner Brenda Burman said in a statement.

“California simply does not have enough carryover storage, and this is a strategic project that is smart, cost-effective and an environmentally sound investment for California,”

The government estimates the dam raise would cost about $1.4 billion.

By raising the 600-foot-tall Shasta Dam by 3%, or an additional 18½ feet, the proposed project would increase water storage capacity in the reservoir by 634,000 acre-feet or more than 200 billion gallons — enough water to support two million people a year.

However, the government has run into stiff opposition from environmental groups and the state of California, both of whom have sued — and won in court — over potential impacts to wildlife and the McCloud River, which would be further inundated when the lake fills higher due to a taller dam.

The Fresno-based Westlands Water District began an environmental impact report on raising the height of the dam, but a judge ordered the agency to stop after it was sued in Shasta County Superior Court by the California Attorney General's Office.

The state AG successfully argued that raising the height of the dam violated a state law that says no agency of the state can participate in planning projects that would affect the McCloud River.

In the meantime, the owners of resorts, homes and marinas around Lake Shasta have lived with uncertainty over whether they will be required to sell their properties or move to higher ground to accommodate a new, higher lake level.

In October 2018, President Trump directed the secretary of the interior — who previously did work for Westlands Water District — and the secretary of commerce to expedite environmental reviews of water resources projects in the West, the bureau said.

In addition to increasing the amount of water coming down the spillway of Shasta Dam, four of the five turbines were generating electricity Tuesday. © Damon Arthur/Record Searchlight In addition to increasing the amount of water coming down the spillway of Shasta Dam, four of the five turbines were generating electricity Tuesday.

The increased storage from the dam raise would improve water quality in the Sacramento River below the dam by lowering water temperatures for winter-run chinook salmon and other fish that migrate up the river to spawn, according to the bureau.

Environmental groups, however, believe a higher dam would be harmful to fish spawning downstream of the dam in the Sacramento River.

Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight’s resources and environment reporter. He is among the first on the scene at breaking news incidents, reporting real time on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Damon is part of a dedicated team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834 and damon.arthur@redding.com. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!

This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Trump administration studies raising the height of Shasta Dam

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