Jim Reed has a jobs program for the north state, but paycheck-hungry locals would starve to death waiting for it.
Reed, the Democrat who ran against Republican Rep. Wally Herger in 2010 and is seeking a rematch next year, has grabbed onto the idea of increasing the height of Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet as both an important project for California's water supply and, critically, just the kind of major infrastructure project that the north state needs to put residents to work.
Only one problem: While he says the environmental and feasibility studies for dam enlargement will be completed soon, opening the door for construction, in the realm of dam-building, time moves at an almost geological pace. Waiting for the dam is like watching the Sierra Nevada's granite massif rise.
It's not for lack of trying. Building a modestly taller dam and impounding a larger reservoir in Lake Shasta has been considered one of the best ways to store more water in California for more than a decade. The Bureau of Reclamation formally launched its required environmental impact studies in 2005, and at that time a spokesman told the Record Searchlight to expect a decision by 2009 and construction by 2011 or 2012.
A seemingly endless series of lawsuits related to endangered Sacramento River fish and the Central Valley Project's operations, as well as the need to consider climate change in the environmental reviews, have delayed the studies. Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero says the agency now expects to release a preliminary draft environmental impact study — a draft of a draft — at the end of this year, three years behind schedule and counting. It's anyone's guess how much longer it would take to actually approve construction — and overcome the political and legal resistance from Indian tribes, fisheries advocates and environmentalists who would fight the larger dam's inevitable encroachment on the upstream section of the McCloud River that is protected as "wild and scenic" under state law.
Give Reed credit for bucking his political base and thinking big, but California might not be ready for such big thinking these days.
Studying and fighting over the expansion of Shasta Dam promises to keep an army of consultants, biologists, engineers and lawyers busy for years to come.
But actual construction workers? Today's unemployed tradesmen will be collecting Social Security before anyone starts pouring concrete to enlarge the dam.