Comments Due 1/14 – Stop the Shasta Dam Raise!

Wasting tax dollars, destroying tribal cultural heritage and endangered species, all at our expense to benefit southern California water interests – the Shasta Dam Raising project has something to oppose for everyone!

Following a 2015 study, this project was stalled, largely for financial reasons. However, this year Congress revived the project, providing $20 million for “pre-construction” activities. On November 30, the Westlands Water District opened a public comment period, stating “The District is asking for comments from Federal, Tribal, State, and local governments; special interest groups; and the public to help identify issues and concerns associated with the potential effects of implementing the Project”.

Key points in opposition include:

  • It’s illegal – this project conflicts with California law protecting the McCloud River. Westlands should respect the law and immediately cease all efforts to move this project forward.
  • Its costs are great – the project cannot pass long-established financial criteria for funding federal water projects. The state of California refuses to provide funding.
  • Its benefits are few – in an era of climate change and drought, during most years the increased height of the dam would provide no additional water whatsoever. Its potential water storage in wet years constitutes less than 1/10th of 1% of California’s water budget. Conservation efforts can provide much more water at far less cost.
  • It’s a scam – vague promises of outdoor recreation funding are without factual basis. Promises of compensation made in the 1940s have still never been fulfilled. Businesses around the lake should not trust unfounded statements now being made.
  • It further destroys native cultural heritage – sacred sites of the Winnemum Wintu tribe would be flooded, causing irreparable harm to this culture already decimated by the original dam construction.
  • It threatens endangered species –  by inundating prime salmon rivers and destroying salamander habitat, for species which may become extinct should the dam be raised.
  • It will release toxic waste – fish in Shasta Lake already contain unsafe levels of mercury and other toxics, and dam raising may flood other uncapped mines, making this situation much worse.

As another example, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) has provided an online form letter people may use to submit comments, as follows:

TO: Shasta Dam Raise Comments

Re: Shasta Dam Raise Public Scoping Comment

Please include the following comments in the public record for the proposed Shasta Dam Raise Project.

The proposed project would increase the height of the Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet. Shasta Dam is already the largest reservoir in the state and the proposed project would expand the capacity of Shasta Lake by up to 634,000 acre feet, which would inundate National Forest Lands that are within habitat of the imperiled Shasta salamander, the Shasta snow-wreath and many other endemic species. The area that is proposed to be flooded also includes the ancestral territory of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, and increasing the water capacity of the reservoir would put new demands for water on Northern California’s already strained watersheds and the communities that depend on them.

The area surrounding Shasta Lake is rich in biodiversity and is home to many rare and endemic species such as the Shasta salamander, Shasta snow-wreath and the Shasta Chaparral snail. The Shasta snow-wreath is a rare native shrub that is only known to exist near the shores and canyons around Shasta Lake, and many of the populations were lost when the Shasta dam was originally constructed. Current efforts to list the Shasta salamander under the federal Endangered Species Act are underway; however, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been delaying the process. The Service failed to act on listing petitions that were filed 2012 to protect the species under federal law, and now a lawsuit has been filed against the Service to force the federal agency to make a determination on whether to protect the salamanders. If a positive finding is made, and the salamanders gain protections, the Bureau of Reclamation would have to avoid raising the dam without harming them.

Raising the Shasta Dam would flood new parts of the McCloud River, which is home to many sacred Native American sites belonging to the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, who have already lost more than 90 percent of their lands when the Shasta Dam was constructed. The cultural considerations describing the inadequacies of this project cannot be understated. Raising the Shasta Dam would destroy 39 of their remaining sacred sites, and almost all of their remaining lands, including Children’s Rock and Puberty Rock, which is used in coming-of-age ceremonies, and a burial place for victims of the Kaibai Creek Massacre. This is of significant cultural value to the already displaced Winnemem Wintu people, who have been seeking federal recognition for over a century.

Shasta Dam raise project operations would have long-term impacts to flow and water temperatures in the lower Sacramento River and tributaries and Trinity River, including impacts to fish species of primary management concern. Project operations would impact the Trinity River, which contributes cold water flows to the main stem of the Klamath River below their confluence. Steelhead, coho and Chinook salmon depend on these cold water flows from the Trinity River into the Lower Klamath watershed, and increased demand on Trinity River water flows to supply additional Shasta reservoir capacity, would harm the salmon fisheries that depend on the Trinity’s cold water flows during dry months. Diverting Trinity River flows away from the Klamath would result in lower flows and higher water temperatures that cause fish disease and lethal conditions for the salmon fisheries that depend on clean cold water flows to survive. Coho salmon are already listed as Endangered, and the Karuk Tribe recently submitted a petition to list the Klamath’s spring-run Chinook salmon under the Endangered Species Act. Shasta Dam raise operations would cause irreparable harm to these ecologically, culturally, and economically important fisheries, which would impact the entire North Coast community, and would result in significant harm to the Yurok, Hoopa and Karuk Tribes that have subsisted on salmon since time immemorial. The collapse of salmon fisheries and the loss of primary food sources for indigenous peoples of the North Coast has been linked to diabetes, depression, and even high suicide rates among tribal members who have evolved with salmon in their culture and diets for thousands of years.

The current regulatory framework that dictates flows on the Trinity River is not adequate to protect the salmon fisheries of the North Coast. Nearly every year, lawsuits have to be filed to request emergency flow releases to avoid catastrophic fish kills. Therefore, the mitigation measures that are listed in the BOR’s Shasta Lake Water Resources Investigation EIS: “Mitigation Measure Aqua-15: Maintain Flows in the Feather River, American River, and Trinity River Consistent with Existing Regulatory and Operational Requirements and Agreements” is not sufficient to bring project impact levels down to less than significant after the incorporation of mitigation measures.

The above issues are of great concern and need to be included in the analysis and decision-making process of the proposed Shasta Dam Raise project. Based on the significant impacts that the proposed project would have on Northern California’s environment, community and economy, I request that the project be rescinded and denied to avoid irreparable harm to the region.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on the proposed Shasta Dam Raise Project and please ensure that I receive public notices related to the proposed project in the future.