The Bureau of Reclamation recently released their draft feasibility study which concluded that raising the Shasta Dam 18.5 feet (flooding reaches of the McCloud, Upper Sac and Pit Rivers in the process), was “cost effective” and “feasible.”

Great.

And because it’s a typical Bureau of Reclamation project, they appear to be playing games with the cost allocations, suggesting that this boon to junior water rights holders like Axis of Evil Member Westlands Water District won’t end up costing irrigators their fair share (as this Redding Record-Searchlight editorial wisely points out):

But the feasibility study released this week that concludes enlarging the dam and reservoir is both possible and cost-effective makes a curious argument. A bigger dam isn’t just coincidentally good for the fish. Rather, they are the major beneficiary — with more than 61 percent of the bigger dam’s benefits attributed to fish and wildlife enhancement, as opposed to irrigators, urban water users, and hydroelectric customers.

That means 61 percent of the projects costs — roughly $655 million, according to the estimates released this week — are not “reimbursable.” That is, they couldn’t be added to water users’ bills. Instead, presumably, the taxpayers at large would be on the hook.

Sorry, but this smacks of a shell game. The people who stand to gain from a deeper Lake Shasta are the owners of major agribusinesses with iffy junior water rights prone to cutbacks in dry years — among them the San Joaquin Valley’s Westlands Water District. They benefit both from the extra water itself, and from the steps to improve fisheries, which ultimately aim to remediate the damage done by the Central Valley Project and avert further potential water cutbacks related to endangered-species protection.

For some — like Westlands — the taxpayer-funded handouts never really stop.

Longtime readers will remember that Westlands purchased the private Bollibokka Fishing Club in order facilitate dam raising (though at one point they were exploring the possibility of annexing the Bollibokka into their lower Central Valley irrigation district to get a higher water right).

Going through all the reports is a mind-numbing task, but one thing quickly becomes clear; inundation of the Sacramento and Pit Rivers simply aren’t considered a problem.

They’re not even mentioned in the “Major Topics of Interest” section.

Nor could I quickly find any actual numbers as to the amount of those rivers that would be lost.

The McCloud River offers up a few special challenges to those who would flood a little more of it, which are acknowledged in this document.

Astonishingly, in a search to discover just how much of the McCloud would be lost, I found this throwaway statement:

Specific information is lacking concerning the river reach that could periodically be inundated if Shasta Dam and Shasta Lake were enlarged because the lands along this part of the river are privately owned and access for biological and other surveys has been limited; therefore, general information concerning the lower McCloud River as a whole is provided for some resource areas. This section also includes a brief description of the current transition reach (see Figure 25-1) because the reach of the river that would be newly inundated would likely take on the characteristics of the existing transition reach.

Uhh, the people who want to raise the dam don’t want to be bothered to learn what we’re going to lose?

Forgive me for suspecting that the Bureau of Reclamation has little interest in discovering exactly how much river we’d lose.

While the McCloud has never been protected by a Wild & Scenic Rivers designation, it has been offered some protection at the state level:

The legislature instead passed an amendment to the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to protect the river’s free-flowing condition and the river’s fishery below McCloud Dam through the State PRC.

This provides a certain barrier to raising the dam, as does the existence of a number of sacred sites for the Winnemem band of the Wintu Indians, who lost the majority of their lands when the dam was built, and stand to lose what little is left.

This band of Wintu aren’t — for some reason — afforded federal status, and you can expect that little dodge to cost someone their ancient burial ground.

Given the pressures on California’s overpromised water supplies — and the money at stake from groups like Westlands, who would like to get more of their allocations, which they can sell at a premium price elsewhere — I get a sense of inevitability about this whole mess, and if it does happen, you can only hope the Bureau and the water users who benefit are forced to mitigate for the lengths of river we’d lose.

There are many dimensions to this mess — far more than I can cover here — but there’s more to come.

See you on the river (maybe the lower bit of the Upper Sac) while we can still fish it, Tom Chandler.