Agriculture

Westlands bid to study raising Shasta Dam squashed by courts, Becerra

Westlands Water District is scrapping its plans to study raising Shasta Dam following heavy legal resistance from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

In late July, a Shasta County judge stopped the Fresno-based water district from conducting an environmental impact review on raising Shasta Dam by up to 18.5 feet.

The Shasta Dam enlargement project was awarded $20 million by Congress in 2018 via the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, a key bill authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) in 2016.

In order to complete a raise of the Dam, Westlands or other similar agencies would need to share half the cost of construction with the Federal government.

Before providing matching funds, the water district would need to conduct an environmental review of the project in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra intervened in the district’s move to study the project, arguing that the $1 million environmental study would violate California’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The act prohibits state agencies from planning or constructing any dam with the Federal government that “could have an adverse effect on the free-flowing condition of the McCloud River, or on its wild trout fishery.” Lake Shasta is fed by the McCloud River.

Westlands argued that only study itself would determine if there was, in fact, a violation of the state’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

In August, Westlands filed a petition with California’s Third District Court of Appeal asking to reverse the Shasta County court’s injunction on starting an environmental study.

The petition was ultimately denied by appellate justices in late August.

Monday, the water district announced it was terminating its plan to study a Shasta Dam raise, arguing that completing the necessary steps under CEQA would not be possible under the schedule set forward by the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

“No agency of the State has conducted a project-specific analysis of Reclamation’s proposal, to determine if enlargement of Shasta Dam would adversely affect aquatic resources – particularly those in the lower McCloud River,” Westlands general manager Tom Birmingham said in a statement. “Westlands took the initiative to do that assessment, through the public process established by CEQA.”

“It is unfortunate that, as a result of the actions of the Attorney General, Westlands was enjoined from completing that analysis.”

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.