Shasta Dam Politics
The battle over the future of Shasta Dam surfaced this afternoon in the Assembly Governmental Organization committee in the form of joint resolution urging the federal government to reaffirm recognition of an Indian tribe along the McCloud River.
The Winnemem Wintu tribe, a dozen of whose members attended the hearing in native garb, opposes raising the dam on Lake Shasta which would inundate more of their holy places along the middle fork of the McCloud River, many of which were lost when the dam was completed in 1945.
They complain that the federal government stopped recognizing them and should reaffirm their status as a recognized tribe, which would give them more power to prevent potential destruction of their village sites and sacred places if the federal government decides to raise the dam.
“All we’re asking for is an even chance,” Mark Franco, the tribe’s headman, told the committee. “We have never seen the proof (our federal recognition) was terminated.”
Assembly Joint Resolution 39, basically a dandified letter urging federal officials to re-examine the case of the Winnemem Wintu, is carried by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, a former Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer.
The NRDC, which staunchly opposes raising the height of Shasta Dam has been a long-time champion of the Winnemem Wintu. The tribe declared war on the United States in 2000 when the Bureau of Reclamation first proposed raising the 602-foot tall dam by 6.5 to 18.5 feet.
Only GOP Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries of Riverside noted that the resolution had broader implications that federal recognition of a small Indian tribe.
“There are supporters of your effort whose goal is to tear down or stop the continued existence of the Shasta Dam,” Jeffries said. “I don’t like the iea of other people using your tribe as a pawn.”
Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, the Fremont Democrat who chairs the committee, appeared to be fighting the impulse to say “Very first time that’s ever happened,” but restrained himself and merely described politics as a world of ever-shifting alliances.
Franco need not answer the question about the dam since it wasn’t germaine to the resolution and its purpose, Torrico said.
Raising Shasta dam is supported by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and the farmers and water interests of the Central Valley.
Early last year, the Fresno-based Westlands Water District – the largest agricultural user of Northern California water – spent nearly $35 million to purchase 3,000 acres of land on the McCloud River to make it easier to raise the dam.
Located on the property is the private Bollibokka fishing club, built in 1904 by the founders of Hills Brothers Coffee and 26 Winnemem Wintu villages and burial grounds.
If federal officials and lawmakers decide to raise the dam, the Westlands acreage would be sold to the federal government and flooded.
Huffman’s measure was easily approved – even Jeffries voted for it. It now heads to the Assembly floor.
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