Sacramento, You’re All Dammed Up

Homeward bound, oaks have leafed out

Homeward bound, oaks have leafed out

Holly and I had such a good time driving up to Washington State on Interstate-5 in early April, we’ve decided to schedule future road trips in the spring instead of summer. Recent trips to the Northwest in August have ended with us rerouting to the coast to avoid forest fires and suffocating smoke. Western forests are burning more and more every summer and we expect this trend to continue as the Earth’s climate changes. I didn’t think global warming would happen in my lifetime, but it is here now and affecting our daily lives in North America.

Shasta Dam from the visitors center

Shasta Dam from the visitors center

Our interest in the Sacramento River watershed inspired a visit to Shasta Dam on our return trip. The dam forms Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California. Set in the mountains, the lake resembles a brittle sea star with arms of the McCloud River, the Pit River, the Sacramento and scores of other smaller streams that feed it. Shasta Dam controls runoff from a gigantic drainage basin, which is still only about a quarter of the 27,580-square-mile Sacramento River watershed. Last summer, after four years of drought, Shasta Lake had shrunk significantly. Now, after a relatively wet spring, the water has risen to near capacity.

Shasta Dam visitor center

Shasta Dam visitor center

You can drive up to the visitor center whose big windows and outdoor deck offer a good view of the dam. Bureau of Reclamation staff also lead free tours down into the dam and power station. For more information: http://www.usbr.gov/mp/ncao/shasta-dam.html.

Completed in 1945, the dam has greatly affected the environment and ecology of the Sacramento River, and flooded sacred Indian tribal lands. In recent years, there has been debate over whether to raise the dam to increase water storage and power generation. Local Indian tribes are leading opposition to this proposal, as it would further inundate the land they inhabit.

The Sacramento River watershed is vast, encompassing nearly half of California. The river and its tributaries are the lifeblood of our state. We watershed geeks have much more exploring to do.

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