Shasta Dam, CA
Shasta Dam is the keystone of the Central Valley Project, a complex of several dams, reservoirs and canals across Northern California. It is a high-arch concrete dam over 600 feet high and almost 3,500 feet wide at the top, situated in the former Iron Canyon. At the time it was built, it was the second largest dam in the world, after Grand Coulee on the Columbia River (another New Deal project), and it is still the 8th highest in the United States. It impounds the largest reservoir in California, with a capacity of 4.5 million acre-feet.
Shasta Dam had been originally conceived in the 1900s and a ‘State Water Project’ including the dam was drawn up in the 1920s. But state finances proved insufficient to build the project and the federal government took it over in the early 1930s, calling it the Central Valley Project, with the Bureau of Reclamation as the designated agency. The contract was given to a consortium of twelve construction companies called “Pacific Constructors, Inc”. Kaiser Corporation won the contract to provide the concrete, which led Henry Kaiser to create a wholly new branch of his construction empire called Permanente Cement. The volume of concrete in Shasta Dam is still second only to that in Grand Coulee Dam in the United States.
The construction of Shasta Dam required thousands of workers, for which the contractors built company town called Shasta Dam Village with housing, dining halls and other facilities. The Bureau of Reclamation (then called the Reclamation Service) also built itself a town of administrative personnel, called Toyon. Several new roads, railways and bridges were also needed for access and to replace infrastructure drowned by the huge reservoir. (We need photographs of those two villages!)
Shasta Dam’s primarily function is water storage for irrigation in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, but it generates huge amounts of electricity, helps protect against floods downriver in wet years, and prevents saltwater intrusion into the Delta in dry years . At the same time, the dam devastated the King Salmon runs of the Upper Sacramento Valley (especially the Pit River) and drowned hundreds of acres of land traditionally belonging to the Winnemum Wintu band of native peoples, not to mention several sacred sites and fishing grounds.
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Kelley, Robert. 1989. Battling the Inland Sea: American Political Culture, Public Policy, and the Sacramento Valley, 1850-1986. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hundley, Norris. 1992. The Great Thirst: Californians and Water, 1770s-1990s. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Project originally submitted by Shaina Potts on August 3, 2008.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker.
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