Protecting a Legacy
Update May 2019
On Tuesday, May 14, CA Attorney General Xavier Bacerrra filed a lawsuit to block Westlands Water District from taking unlawful action to assist in the planning and construction of a project to raise the height of Shasta Dam. Joining AG Bacerra, a coalition represented by Earthjustice has filed a separate suit. CalTrout stands with AG Bacerra and the Earthjustice coalition in strong opposition to this unlawful dam raise plan and has consistently advocated on behalf of the parties that would be injured by such an illegal attempt to circumvent established state law.
When Shasta Dam was originally completed in 1945, it was an engineering marvel — one that provided flood control to the Central Valley, power to its communities, and water to the Central Valley Project’s irrigators.
Unfortunately, the effects weren’t all positive.
The day the gates closed, as much as 75 percent of California’s prime salmon and steelhead spawning habitat disappeared. The winter-run chinook salmon — the only winter-run chinook in the world — lost access to the cold, spring-fed waters of the McCloud, where it evolved.
A hatchery was built to mitigate the salmon habitat losses, but new research tells us the hatchery may be hurting the salmon more than it’s helping them, degrading wild fish genetics and driving “boom and bust” population cycles common to monocultures.
Meanwhile, the flows in the Sacramento River below the dam were managed for water deliveries, not fish. Further downstream, the river was channelized, eliminating the floodplains — which we’re now learning are essential habitat for juvenile salmon.
In other words, Shasta Dam was good for part of the state, but a disaster for salmon, steelhead and other fish.
Raising the dam would only compound these well-documented negative impacts. In fact, Federal studies of the proposal concluded that raising the dam would increase the already inundated portion of the lower McCloud River by more than one-third. This further inundation would have a significant negative impact on the river’s unique habitats and blue-ribbon trout fishery, and would submerge sacred sites of the Winnemem Wintu Native American Tribe. Much of the Winnemem Wintu’s native land was already destroyed by the construction of the original dam in 1945.
Shasta Dam is clearly an engineering wonder, but it’s part of CalTrout’s mission to see that it doesn’t become a larger environmental and cultural disaster. As such, CalTrout reiterates its firm stance in opposition to any plan to raise the dam and we applaud and affirm the legal actions taken by AG Bacerra and the Earthjustice coalition.
UPDATE March 15, 2018
The possibility of raising Shasta Dam is back on the table.
Congressional Republicans, with the encouragement of Westlands Water District, are pushing a plan that would undercut California’s ability to control its own water future. Congress is considering a rider to an omnibus funding bill that would make it possible for the federal government to make a unilateral move to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet, effectively cutting California out of the decision-making process.
In 2013, the Bureau of Reclamation conducted a feasibility study for raising Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet to increase water storage capacity by more than 10 percent. Shasta Dam and Reservoir is the cornerstone of the Central Valley Project, which provides irrigation and drinking water for much of California’s Central Valley and parts of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Ultimately, BOR recommended against raising the dam in part because of the requirement that non-federal partners must pay for half the estimated $1.3 billion cost.
What’s going on now?
Fast-forward five years and Westlands Water District has quietly been ushering through a proposal for authorizing construction of expanding Shasta Dam. It’s now at an advanced Federal planning stage. Not surprisingly, the Trump Administration favors the project, which is unsettling given the close ties between powerful people in Washington and the water interests that would benefit from the dam expansion (e.g., Westlands Water District). Congress is considering adding a rider to a bill that would eliminate cost-sharing requirements with California, but then the cost gets put on federal taxpayers.
Under California law, this is an illegal project. The Trump administration would have to abrogate a century of federal deference to state laws on California water to go ahead with this.”
-Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael)
We need your voice. Click here to send a letter to your representative in opposition of raising Shasta Dam.
- Protect the world-famous McCloud River from plans to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet, which would inundate over three miles of the Upper Sac and lower McCloud Rivers.
- Inform policy and management decisions associated with salmon re-introduction discussion.
- Protect existing state law declaring that the McCloud River possesses extraordinary fishery resources and that existing natural and free-flowing conditions are the highest and most beneficial use of the water.
CalTrout has established and disseminated policy positions on Shasta Dam raise, the feasibility of “trap and haul” method of salmonid re-introduction, and the McCloud-Pit FERC hydroelectric re-licensing project.
We will continue to keep state and federal decision-makers informed of our positions and engage our constituents to speak up on behalf of the Wild and Scenic waters of the McCloud.
In addition, we’ll work to present cost-effective and feasible alternatives to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) addressing Central Valley winter and spring-run Chinook salmonid recovery. Our projects in the Central Valley exemplify that more cost-effective restoration and water management efforts can be implemented that benefit both fish and people.
Watch Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) question Interior Secretary Zinke about the legality of raising Shasta Dam.