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Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Agency Buys Shasta Lake Land to Send More Northern California Water to Fresno Corporate Farms


The Fresno-based Westlands Water District -- already the largest agricultural user of Northern California water -- has spent nearly $35 million to purchase 3,000 acres of land on the McCloud River to make it easier to one day raise Shasta Dam.

The land acquired by Westlands would be sold to the federal government and inundated if officials and lawmakers decided 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 Indian villages with burial grounds. The Indians worry that their access to sacred sites could be blocked by Westlands.

"Our purpose in buying the property was only to ensure there would be no additional impediments if the (federal) Bureau of Reclamation concludes it's feasible to raise the dam," said Tom Birmingham, general manager and general counsel for Westlands. The Indians "have conducted cultural activities there. I don't see any reason why they couldn't continue to do that."

Westlands' goal of capturing more water in Lake Shasta would help make more water available to the 600 farmers it serves. Those farmers now, on average, receive only 65 percent of the annual 1.15 million acre-feet they are entitled to under the district's contract with the federal government. Any extra water the district receives could be sold at higher prices to urban users.

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