Three threats may doom California’s largest river and heart of the Pacific Flyway.
THE SACRAMENTO RIVER
The majestic Sacramento River is California’s largest, flowing almost 450 miles from its headwaters to its outlet at the Golden Gate on San Francisco Bay. The river’s watershed encompasses more than 25,000 square miles and is home to 2.2 million Californians. The river is an important source of water for state residents and is also a prime recreation destination for millions of visitors.
Prior to the late 1800s, the Sacramento River was surrounded by more than 500,000 acres of riverside (riparian) forests and wetlands, but about 90% of this habitat was cleared and filled to make way for farms, cities, and flood control projects.
In 1945, Shasta Dam was completed, creating the largest reservoir in California and flooding segments of the Sacramento, McCloud, and Pit Rivers. This dam (and others located on tributaries) sharply modified flows in the river and severely degraded fish and wildlife habitat.
Nevertheless, the Sacramento River still sustains five runs of Chinook salmon and steelhead, as well as more than 200 bird species that depend on the river’s riparian and wetland habitat. But the operation of Shasta Dam, excessive water diversions from the river, and clearing of habitat have brought the salmon, and many other fish and wildlife species, to the brink of extinction. As a consequence, government agencies and conservation organizations have worked for more than 30 years to protect and restore habitat along the river.
THREATS TO THE SACRAMENTO RIVER
There are several distinct but intertwined threats to the Sacramento River.
First of all, the state has over-allocated water from the river by 151% – that means that we take more water out of the river than it provides in a normal water year. And government agencies want to take even more water: by increasing storage through raising Shasta Dam and enlarging its reservoir and building the proposed Building Sites offstream storage reservoir, filling it by diverting more water from the river. Much of the water from these two proposed dam projects would then be diverted from the Sacramento River upstream of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through the Governor’s proposed Delta Tunnels project – severely impact water quality and habitat in the Delta, through which all of the Sacramento River’s salmon and steelhead must migrate.
Building Sites Reservoir
The state Dept. of Water Resources wants to build several dams to create the Sites offstream storage reservoir west of Maxwell in the Sacramento Valley. This $4 billion reservoir would filled by siphoning water from the Sacramento River through two existing diversion facilities and it would require the construction of a new diversion facility and canal. The reservoir would further modify flows in the Sacramento River to the detriment of the river’s fish and wildlife habitat and water quality. It would also flood or destroy more than 16,000 acres of grasslands, oak woodlands, riparian forests, and wetlands that support numerous threatened and endangered wildlife species. Unfortunately, the true impacts of this project remain obscure because its feasibility and environmental studies have yet to be completed.
Raising Shasta Dam
The federal Bureau of Reclamation has developed a Feasibility Report and EIS to raise Shasta Dam by 18 feet to enlarge its reservoir and raise it 20.5 feet. This will further modify flows in the Sacramento River to the detriment of downstream fish and wildlife species, flood more than 5,000 acres of forest and riverside habitat, and harm several rare and endangered wildlife and plant species (including the Shasta snow-wreath, Shasta salamander, and Pacific fisher). It will also violate state law protecting the McCloud River and destroy sacred cultural sites of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe on the McCloud River. In addition, the proposed project would cost in excess of $1.3 billion while yielding a paltry 51,300 acre feet of water annually and cause the expensive relocation of recreational facilities, roads, and other public infrastructure.
Building the Delta Twin Tunnels
The last cog in this chain of river destruction is the Governor’s proposed twin Delta Tunnels. The tunnels would be capable of diverting the entire flow of the Sacramento River prior to its reaching the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Existing state and federal diversions have already degraded water quality in the Delta and driven its resident native fish species (including the Delta smelt and Sacramento split-tail) and migrating salmon and steelhead to the brink of extinction. Because the Sacramento River is the Delta’s primary source of fresh water, the Delta Tunnels may well be a death sentence for the largest estuary on the West Coast.
How you can help the Sacramento River
Friends of the River is actively working to oppose this triple threat to the Sacramento River. We are coordinating a wide-ranging group of citizens and organizations to oppose the raising of Shasta Dam and the construction of Sites reservoir, working with other NGOs to oppose the destructive Delta Tunnels, and building grassroots support for protecting the Sacramento River and its tributaries.
Resources, Comments & Documents
Sites Dam and Reservoir
Sites-Fact-Sheet 2-12-2017 (docx)
Shasta Dam Raise
San Jose Mercury News Story on Fish & Wildlife Coordination Act Report Plan to raise Shasta Dam takes hit (Merc News 1-27-2015)
California Department of Fish & Wildlife comments on the Shasta Dam raise (essentially on the Fish & Wildlife Coordination Act Report) 20150214 Fwd_ CDFW cmts (Adobe OCR)
Comments by Friends of the River and other Environmental Groups