Opponents of raising the Shasta say that, among other things, it would violate state law prohibiting construction that harms pristine waterways such as the McCloud River, which drains into Lake Shasta. “It is explicitly against California law,” said Mr. Mount of the Public Policy Institute. “The federal government needs a permit from the state in order to enlarge the Shasta.”
Major concerns about the Shasta Dam have come from the Interior Department’s own scientists, lawyers and economists. In November 2015, staff biologists at the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in a 215-page report that raising the dam “would result in the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of habitat” in and around Shasta Lake and the Sacramento River, and throughout the San Francisco Bay Delta.
The report said the project would harm the habitat of many species including not only the bald eagle but northern spotted owl and the Shasta snow-wreath, a delicate white flower. A higher dam also would cut off one of the main routes used by salmon to spawn by reducing the flow of water downstream. That could shrink the Pacific Coast salmon population, the report said, which scientists and fishermen say could devastate the west coast salmon fishing industry.
“That Fish and Wildlife report tells us that raising the dam would choke the life out of the Sacramento River, and what that means for the west coast salmon industry I shudder to think,” said John McManus, president of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
For these reasons, the report concluded that Fish and Wildlife was “unable to support” raising the dam. A separate Interior Department report, in July 2015, found that raising the dam would also be too costly, at roughly $1.5 billion, given budget constraints.
Neither report has been publicly updated with new findings.
The Long Game
Westlands has played the long game, preparing for a moment when political winds might shift in its favor. They have pursued creative strategies large and small to help nudge the Shasta project forward while preparing to act quickly if the opportunity arose.
That strategy explains why, back in 2007, Westlands made an unusual purchase, spending $35 million to buy Bollibokka, a 3,000-acre fishing lodge along the McCloud River, just above the Shasta Dam.