Big California water agency steps back from Shasta expansion. Environmentalists still worry

The Sacramento Bee –

The nation’s largest water agency signed an agreement that legally bars it from participating in a controversial plan to raise Shasta Dam, a move applauded by environmental groups that fiercely opposed the proposal out of fears enlarging the state’s biggest reservoir would swamp a stretch of a protected Northern California river and flood sites sacred to a Native American tribe.

Late Thursday, Westlands Water District signed a legal settlement with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra that prohibits the water district from working in a formal way on planning to raise Shasta Dam near Redding.

Westlands’ participation is considered crucial to the project’s coming to fruition.

However, Westlands general manager Tom Birmingham said the settlement doesn’t completely end Westlands’ potential involvement in the project. He said Westlands is still allowed to launch a study “in the abstract” of whether raising the dam would harm the McCloud River, as environmentalists and state officials argue.

“We have not formally backed away from the project,” he said.

If Westlands’ study shows the project wouldn’t hurt the river, Birmingham said Westlands would then have to decide whether to jump back into the formal planning process. He acknowledged that if Westlands decides to resume planning, it will get sued again.

Read more