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Central Valley dam project could bring relief


The debate about how to better manage water has continued for four years, but now the drought is triggering more political momentum for several water storage projects in the Central Valley. The Bureau of Reclamation said, in a report released this week, that it wants to increase the height of the Shasta Dam near Redding by almost 20 feet, thereby adding capacity to store an additional 634,000 acre-feet of water for agricultural, municipal and industrial use.

The redesign may also increase the survival of struggling salmon populations in the upper Sacramento River by releasing more cold water stored behind the dam to improve temperatures in the river. There’s been discussion for the past 35 years about raising the height of the Shasta Dam but numerous feasibility studies, changing economics and shifting politics have kept the project in limbo. Now, the idea may result in actual construction.

“People want to see action, not studies,” said Leigh McDaniel, a farmer who grows grapes, almonds, wheat and barley in the northern Central Valley. “Now that the drought has persisted for as long as it has, the people of California want to see construction of these projects.”

Proposition 1 was passed last year to set aside $2.7 billion for the water storage projects McDaniel mentioned.

The Bureau of Reclamation report did not indicate where the agency would get the money for the $1.2 billion Shasta Dam project—only that the federal government will not foot the bill. The dam project is not eligible for Proposition 1 dollars because the higher reservoir levels would flood upper stretches of the McCloud River, which is home to many endangered wildlife species, and is protected under the state’s Scenic River Protection Act.

Sen. Diane Feinstein’s California Emergency Drought Relief Act could be a possible answer to the question of funding. The law would provide money for various drought responses across the state, including for new water storage. It all depends if Feinstein’s bill is approved in the House where there is significant GOP opposition to more government spending.

The State Water Resources Board this week said that water use for the month of June decreased by 27.3 percent, surpassing Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandate for a 25-percent cut in water usage. Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the water board, said the data released shows that Californians understand the severity of the drought situation.

“We didn’t know if the positive showing in May was due in part to cooler temperatures,” she said in a statement. “The report shows that residents knew they had to keep conserving even during the summer heat and they kept the sprinklers off more than they would in a normal year. That’s the right attitude as we head into August and September heat during the ‘drought of the century’ with no certain end date.”