The Trump administration is pushing hard for a massive, $1.4 billion public works project in Northern California. The plan is to heighten the Shasta Dam by a whopping two stories, an idea that was first formally proposed by the Obama administration.
California’s politicians are vehemently opposed to the water tower’s construction.
“Under California law, this is an illegal project,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael). “The Trump administration would have to abrogate a century of federal deference to state laws on California water to go ahead with this.”
Liberals claim that state law prohibits the administration’s plans. They’ve been fighting against dam-heightening proposals for years.
Farmers in the area are desperate for the thousands of gallons of water that the new tower could create. A lot of California farms focus on labor-intensive, thirsty crops like almonds. Their businesses suffer when the state implements water conservation methods.
California Democrats argue that environmental concerns trump human problems. They don’t care about the purported benefits that will accrue for farmers.
“The Shasta Dam enlargement project would inundate several miles of the protected McCloud River in violation of state law,” California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said.
The McCloud River is shielded by the 1972 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It forbids state politicians from supporting projects that could taint the river’s purity.
Proponents of Trump’s plan counter that conservationists are exaggerating the risks. The federal government did its own environmental study and found that the plan would ultimately be beneficial to for the plants and animals in the area.
“Investing in new infrastructure at Shasta will create a needed and significant new water supply for California’s families, farmers, cities, and environmental resources,” said Marlon Duke, a spokesman at the Bureau of Reclamation.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is trying to rush a bill approving the plan through the state’s Congress. He hopes that if he attaches it to a budget bill that’s expected to pass later this month he can avoid too public opposition by the Democrats.
“If we’ve learned nothing else from the past years of catastrophic drought in our state, perhaps we now all agree that increasing storage capacity to capture water during wet years for use in dry years is absolutely critical,” McCarthy said in a statement.
If the bill passes, the Westlands Water District would not be required to help pay for the water tower scheme. Westlands serves the farms that would be affected. A former Westlands lobbyist, David Berhnhardt, is now second in command at the Interior Department.
“He’s the poster child of this special-interest revolving door between Interior and Westlands,” one critic complained of Bernhardt.
The biggest obstacle to the Trump administration’s plans is the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Democrats aren’t going to give up an inch, they’re going to fight President Trump as hard as they can. The law can be interpreted to prohibit the Shasta Dam project.
Will the construction damage the McCloud river? Then it’s illegal. The Trump administration argues that the river won’t be damaged.
“We’ve seen a strong willingness by this administration to disregard or try to overturn state law in a number of circumstances,” said Doug Obegi, a water attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This is a case of them wanting to preempt state law so they can flood a Wild and Scenic River for their project.”
One of the biggest critics is the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. Members say that the proposed project would flood the tribe’s sacred land.
Surprisingly, a few Democrats in the state agree with President Trump. Sen. Diane Feinstein, a notorious President Trump critic, supports the Shasta Dam project. She realizes that the state needs extra water sources.
“The Bureau of Reclamation has been working on this proposal for decades,” said Tom Birmingham, general manager of Westlands. “Westlands Water District supports efforts by the Department of the Interior and members of the California congressional delegation to move forward.”
California has become a symbol of resistance. The state has set itself against everything that President Trump has proposed. The water tower dilemma is just the latest in a string of defiances.
President Trump isn’t backing down. He didn’t give in to California’s immigration demands and he’s plunging ahead with plans for the Shasta Dam.
“It is my hope that the State of California and my colleagues in the Senate recognize the benefits of enlarging Shasta and will be a constructive partner,” Rep. McCarthy said.