The California Legislature prohibited the construction of new dams, diversions, and reservoirs on 47 miles of the McCloud River in 1989. The dam prohibition occurred in response to a state study of the McCloud and its tributary, Squaw Valley Creek, which found the river to be eligible and suitable for state protection. Due to opposition by a handful of powerful and wealthy landowners (including the Hearst family and Sierra Pacific Industries), the Legislature chose to simply prohibit dams on the river instead of granting it full state wild and scenic protection. New dams are prohibited on the McCloud from Algoma to the McCloud River bridge (just upstream of Shasta Reservoir). The river flows through mixed public and private lands, including the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
The state study found the river to possess extraordinary scenic, recreational, fish, wildlife, geological, cultural, scientific, and hydrological values. A separate study conducted by the Forest Service confirmed the river’s eligibility for federal protection. The state dam prohibition has so far stopped any state or federal approval of a proposed expansion of Shasta Reservoir, which would flood over a mile of the protected lower McCloud.
Much of the McCloud’s flow comes from springs fed by glaciers and snow on Mt. Shasta. Exceptional wildlife, fish, and botanical values are considered to collectively contribute to the river’s extraordinary scientific and ecological values. The river supports one of the premier wild trout fisheries in California. Tributaries to the upper segment provide habitat for the rare McCloud redband trout. Waterfalls in the upper segment, along with nearby National Forest campgrounds, are a major destination on the McCloud River for visitors. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the McCloud and follows the river for a short distance. Spring-fed flows attract whitwater boaters. A portion of the McCloud and much of Squaw Valley Creek flow through the West Girard roadless areas.