UPDATED NOV 2019: Since we identified the raising of the Shasta Dam as a critical threat to the McCloud River, a lot happened in 2019. The McCloud is a state wild and scenic river and a number of conservation and fishing groups sued to prevent the dam’s raising. The state Attorney General Xavier Becerra also joined their efforts. But unlike the dozens of other times the state has sued, this time it was not against the Trump administration. Instead, they targeted the state partner of the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency in charge of the project. That state partner was the infamous Westlands Water District.
Both these suits argued that Westlands, as an agency of the state, was in violation of state wild and scenic rivers law by providing the funds for conducting an environmental impact study of a project. In the summer of 2019, Shasta County Superior Court issued a temporary injunction prohibiting Westlands from taking part in the project and the California Supreme Court refused to hear Westlands’ appeal. Westlands has admitted that decision has ended their participation in the project and, we hope, ended talk of raising the dam long into the future.
ORIGINAL POST: The McCloud River, a tributary of the Sacramento, is protected under California state law from new dams, reservoirs, and water diversions. It is a beautiful river, home to wild trout, scenic waterfalls, and excellent swimming, hiking, and kayaking opportunities. Much of the river and the land along its shores, as it flows towards the Shasta Dam outside of Redding, is sacred land for the Winnemem Wintu tribe.
There is currently a plan, proposed by Congressional leaders and supported by the Trump administration, to raise the height of the Shasta Dam by 18 feet and expand its reservoir. This project is intended to store more water to increase California’s resilience to drought and provide more water for agriculture. In addition, proponents claim that raising the dam will provide more cold water habitat for salmon downstream in the Sacramento River. However, raising the dam will inundate the McCloud River, submerge sacred sites of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, and violate state law prohibiting dams and reservoirs on the river. In short, raising the dam is illegal.
Notable opponents to the plan include the state of California, the Winnemem Wintu tribe, and several environmental and fishing groups. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not support the project, saying that “negligible” benefit to Chinook salmon downstream would be completely offset by the further modification of flows in the Sacramento River and in the Delta. Further critiques of the project cite the astronomical cost – $1.3 billion, paid mainly by taxpayers – and conflicts of interest from the water benefits recipients; much of the water would go to large farm operations, not smaller producers who are in a more desperate need for water. The main proponent of the project, Westlands Water District in the western Fresno and Kings Counties, is the largest agricultural water district in the United States. The District has significant political power in Washington and is pushing for the Shasta Reservoir raise despite state law.
Protection of the McCloud River is absolutely essential. The amount of water the proposed dam raise would provide is negligible in the larger scheme of water availability within the state, and as the climate continues to change and rainfall amounts drop, the dam will be unlikely to fill to its full amount. In fact, water conservation efforts in the summer of 2015 in California’s urban areas saved more than 8 times the amount of water the raised dam would add annually. This small amount of additional storage does not justify the destruction of salmon habitat, the flooding of Native American cultural heritage sites, the relocation or destruction of National Forest land and recreation sites, the flooding of a state protected river, the permanent loss of habitat for numerous species, and the many other destructive effects raising this dam will have.
The McCloud River is protected for a reason. CalWild and our partners are working tirelessly to ensure that this river remains wild for all people to enjoy.