By Sharyn Cornelius

     The Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting as the Shasta County Water Agency put on an informational workshop about statewide water issues on Tuesday, July 24, 2012.  On the agenda were many knowledgeable speakers who conveyed to the Supervisors and members of the audience the latest information and informed opinions about current state water issues.

Tim Quinn, of the Association of California Water Agencies, correctly predicted that Governor Brown would by the end of the week announce support for “peripheral tunnels” that would carry water from the Sacramento River around the Delta;  he also predicted that all the capital costs for the tunnels would be financed by Southern California water users.

Quinn said that the proposed tunnels wouldn’t automatically result in a south state raid on water originating in northern California.  “This is a conveyance asset, not a supply asset.  The tunnels will reduce conflict with the Delta environment.  But you do need to keep a close eye on the amount of the supply.”

Quinn also said he believes the state’s water plan places too much reliance on conservation as opposed to additional storage, but he added that conservation can be a very powerful tool especially in Southern California where folks are finally getting serious about developing local water resources such as desalinization plants and groundwater storage.

Brian Person, of the US Bureau of Reclamation, shared with workshop attendees the recently completed feasibility study for raising Shasta Dam by 18 feet.  He said that height was chosen for the study because it was the maximum that could be added without needing to replace the Pit River Bridge.

Person emphasized that while the study had an “aggressive timeline” and clearly showed that raising the dam is feasible, it would take an act of Congress to authorize the construction.  He noted that although the primary objectives for adding to the storage capability of Shasta Lake were water supply reliability and increased fish survival (through releases from the cold water pool), the project would also provide additional power generation, better flood control and more surface area for recreational opportunities.

Person said thorough engineering studies had shown that the current dam had the “compressive strength” to withstand the additional weight upon it, so the main issues to be dealt with were environmental, not structural.  He said that the thorniest issue to resolve will probably involve the Winnemem-Wintu’s traditional homeland and sacred areas along the McCloud River.  He added that between 40 to 50 private residences and all the lake resorts will need to be relocated and owners compensated for their losses.

Mary Randall, of the California Department of Water Resources, spoke about the Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, which is currently seeking north state projects to fund with Proposition 84 money.  The Plan and the six-county board created to oversee it has become a target for local Tea Party groups, who seem to see it as a way for supporters of United Nations Agenda 21 to meddle in the state’s environmental processes.  Randall tried to allay those fears, but the fact that the DWR is requiring all projects submitted under the Plan to address climate change concerns such as potential C02 emissions during construction, made that difficult for her to do.

Bruce Houdesheldt, of the Northern California Water Association, summed up the state’s water conflict by saying, “All the water challenges facing the Sacramento Valley are due to competing needs between farms, cities and wildlife.  There’s a lot a stake because water is the heart and soul of the state.”  He said that as far as NCWA is concerned, one of the most dangerous proposals currently afloat is the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s concept of “unimpaired flow,” which (if adopted) “will reduce the state’s ability to deliver water during drought years.”  He said NCWA is currently doing scientific studies and preparing to submit comments challenging the RWQCB’s assumptions.  He concluded by saying that for the foreseeable future, everyone should stay alert and “Watch the flows and fees coming out of Sacramento.”