Shasta Dam Raise Blues

Photo source: Northern California Area Office -- Bureau of Reclamation's Mid-Pacific Region

Until recently, the floodgates appeared wide-open on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s effort to raise the height of Shasta Dam by 18 ½ feet. Since Congress allocated $20 million in pre-construction funding for the project last spring, planning efforts have been moving at a rapid pace.

Core samples have been taken of the 602-ft. tall arched-gravity dam to determine if it can bear the load of the steel and concrete “cap” --including eight new spillways replacing the original three, that will be placed on top of it.


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R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas.
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20 Responses

  1. Bruce Vojtecky says:

    In the 50s my father worked on the Flaming Gorge Dam on the Utah/Wyoming border. I wonder if in today’s environmental climate if Flaming Gorge would have been built. That lake feeds recreation and farm needs for an arid area. The Colorado Front Range cities, Fort Collins, have been trying for years to build a pipeline from Flaming Gorge watershed to Fort Collins, so far denied in federal courts.
    Water wars will overshadow all other issues in the West in the future.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      It’s hard to imagine massive projects like the Central Valley Project or the State Water Project being approved today. In the case of the SWP, it was just barely approved by voters in 1960.

  2. Beverly Stafford says:

    If there weren’t 40 million people in California and 300 million nation-wide, a whole lot of our water woes wouldn’t exist. From RV’s research, it appears no one – except those who would benefit financially – wants the dam raised and no one wants a border wall built and no one thinks the high-speed rail will solve traffic issues; yet billions are earmarked for these projects. Gloomy prospects.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      In most of the reports on the state’s water supply, a constantly growing population is assumed. Limiting that growth is never presented as an option.

  3. Tim says:

    Desalination will be the future. Israel now gets 55% of its water from the sea and China has been making big strides… Carlsbad, near San Diego, recently opened the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere. It cost $1 billion and produces 56,000 acrefeet annually (3,000 acrefeet more than the proposed $1.3 billion dam project).

    Desalination does take a lot of energy so the water costs more, about twice what they were paying for NorCal water, but SoCal probably should have been paying us twice as much all along to mitigate our losses (e.g. before Shasta Dam we had millions of winter run Chinook; last year we had 1,100).

    Another seldom-mentioned drawback to raising the dam is the larger potential inundation zone should the dam fail (or be attacked). Before 9/11 you could readily find inundation maps for all the major dams and use that information when looking to buy or build a home, but now those maps are classified (at least for Shasta Dam). Anyway, we take for granted that the dam will always hold – silly given the recent Oroville dam failure. Not that Oroville is California’s most famous dam failure: a bureaucrat named Mulholland once built a dam that killed ~600 when it failed in the middle of the night (it was not even his first dam failure)

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Desalination will undoubtedly be part of southern California’s water supply in the future. Great strides have also been made with conservation. But many water districts down south support the Twin Tunnels. They’re gonna need every spare drop.

  4. Robert Scheide Sr. says:

    The debate goes on. Raise Shasta Dam 18.5 feet or not. With groundwater declining and rain being at best undependable we will need more storage, where to get it is the problem.
    Raising the dam is one of them and crops up more often than other projects because the dam is already there, so the siting of a new dam is a hard pull, therefore raising Shasta comes to the top of the list.

    A factor the I believe has to be considered is Climat Change. How do you plan for something you have only no understanding of what Mother Nature will throw at us.
    The current forecast predicts less snow pack which means whatever comes down will be rain, but exactly how much rain no one knows. Orville Dam and its failure are a good example. The inflow from that storm exceeded the 100 year flood plan that was used to design the dam, the inflow far exceeded the ability to pass the water through. So it failed
    Trust no dam operator wants to be on when that happens.

    I believe in Climate Change which means I am for any increase in storage we can get. Looking just a Shasta in its current configuration stands a good chance of getting overtopped in the bigger storms we are getting. I was at Shasta during a huge storm and the water came up so fast we were getting scared.. When you have every outlet running at full bore and the level is still rising shows you need bigger better outlets.

    In my estimation, if you not going to build the tunnels don’t waste your money raising dams. The Delta will go away a problem that money won’t fix. Without a Delta to transport water south California will wither away.

    How you win the battle with environmentalists, fish folk, and Native Americans is a battle I am glad I don’t have to fight. In these kinds of fights, many enemies are made, all sides believe they are correct, and none are easy to push off their views.

    Is there an answer that will satisfy all sides, I doubt it. Will the fight be bloody, you bet.

    Some of the other viable options are: replenish groundwater, build desalination plants NUKES or not),conservation , lots to be done here, green lawns may have to go.

    Times are changing and to survive we have to change and we have to do it soon.

  5. Bruce Vojtecky says:

    We build pipelines that transport oil thousands of miles over mountains and fragile land. Why can’t we build pipelines that transport water from areas that flood every year, Fargo and the Nebraska panhandle. Laramie floods every year while Cheyenne is a desert. Many Midwest towns from Cheyenne to Omaha have so much snowfall with nowhere to put it. They heat oil pipelines, why can’t we heat snowfall pipelines to move the melted water to other dry areas. I spent the last ten years navigating around parking lots with small snow mountains and streets with a four foot high center stripe of snow every winter in Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado. With higher temps the normal now that buildup of snow causes flooding every year.
    The west has the water we just need to move it where it is needed.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      The question concerning technology is when to use it and when to let things be.

    • Tim says:

      There are no major technical hurdles preventing such a pipeline, but water is just too cheap right now to make it worthwhile: 1 barrel of oil costs $35-100 depending on market cycles (big oil projects generally start getting approved when oil hits about $60/barrel). 1 barrel (42 gal) of water costs just $0.08 (yes, eight pennies) from the city of Redding and still only $0.32/barrel in San Diego. Even in super-high cost Israel, water is just $0.66.

      Philosophers have pondered the paradoxically low value of water for millennia (e.g. why a useless diamond can be traded for almost anything while water, necessary for life, can be traded for very little).

      • Bruce Vojtecky says:

        If water is so cheap why has a Fort Collins man named Million been trying to get fed approval for a few years now to build a 400 mile pipeline to move water from the Green River watershed in Wyoming/Utah over the Rockies to Fort Collins?
        Denver is so desperate for new water supplies they have even proposed building a pipeline from the Mississippi River to Denver. Cost is not relevant, approval is.
        Desalination is an option for California with the Pacific Ocean right there but the interior states don’t have that option.

  6. Anita Brady says:

    Use the millions of $$$$ to buy up the land being serviced by Westlands and let it go back to its normal (desert) state. Problem solved.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      This is already happening as the share of water pumped down south shifts from agricultural to suburban and urban water users. Southern California will still wield enormous political influence on this issue.

  7. Mark Twitchell says:

    There’s a book out called “The Emerald Mile” which, on the surface, is about these 3 guys who made the fastest run ever down the Grand Canyon during the flood of 1983. What the book is really about (in addition to these 3 crazy guys) is the problems they had with Glen Canyon Dan during that flood and the fight to keep it from washing away. They came within a gnat’s eyelash of losing the whole dam that year. It’s a fascinating read, and makes you wonder why they were so flabbergasted when Oroville Dam went south. Same exact deal.

  8. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    Just keep asking simple questions to all those who want to raise the dam…How much compensation {that’s money} will be given to all those in the way of the alleged water ? Where is all this alleged water coming from ? Will those who want the dam raised listen to the overwhelming opposition ? What evidence can be produced that adding 18′ will not compromise the structural integrity of the existing, almost 80 year old, dam ? Who’s going to pay for the millions of dollars in override costs ? With snow capacity recorded at low levels, the glaciers on Mt Shasta melting and long periods of no rain; that 18′ is not to going to see water levels any time in the near future.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      The Bureau sure seems to have some businesses convinced they’ll get a good deal out of this. That’s not the history of such projects.

  9. CODY says:

    If anyone can get this done, it would be Westlands.

    Long term, the Desal is probably the best option, as mentioned above.

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