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 The voice of California's rivers

No Dam Raise

McCloud above Shasta Res 1-23-2013Raising Shasta Dam: Great For Water Contractors Not Good For Fish

Download the factsheet

Hearing locations and dates

The United States Bureau of Reclamation has released for public review the Shasta Lake Water Resources Investigation Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SLWRI DEIS).  It’s a long name for a simple but incredibly expensive and destructive idea – raising one of the tallest dams in California to expand what is already the largest reservoir in the state, supposedly to improve downstream river conditions for salmon and steelhead.

If the bizarre concept of a dam helping fish made your head spin, you’re not the only one suffering from this oxymoron.

The Bureau claims that spending more than a billion dollars to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet will provide additional water that will be used to provide cold water downstream for threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. Apparently, no one at the Bureau realizes that Sacramento River salmon began their downward spiral towards extinction when Shasta Dam was completed in 1945, thereby blocking the river’s historic spawning grounds for salmon and steelhead and modifying downstream flows to the extent that the river no longer provides suitable fish habitat, particularly in drought years.

Here’s the real kicker – the Bureau hopes that you won’t find in the DEIS’ thousands of pages of analysis, general verbiage, and complex appendices a report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that states unequivocally that raising the dam will have negligible benefits for endangered fish. According to the USFWS, the raised dam will provide no fishery benefits 90% of the time. That’s because dams don’t produce water, they simply capture it when rain falls from the sky and flows downhill. If the rain doesn’t fall (as often happens during California’s chronic drought periods), there will be little or no additional water stored behind the raised dam to benefit salmon.

Also hidden in this massive document is the real reason for the dam raise – every extra drop of water stored behind the raised dam will be sold to federal water contractors downstream, with 77% of the water sold for export south of the Delta. Which means the Shasta Dam raise is directly tied the proposal by water contractors and Governor Jerry Brown to build enormous twin tunnels under the Delta, which will divert large amounts of fresh water from the Sacramento River (much of it stored upstream behind Shasta Dam) for export to large corporate farms in the San Joaquin Valley and Tulare Basin.

Friends of the River is still reviewing the current version of the DEIS. But our analysis of the preliminary DEIS last spring identified many more problems with this proposal, in addition to lack of fishery benefits, cost, and true purpose.

Steve Evans, Salmon River ThumbnailThe dam raise and reservoir expansion will drown thousands of acres of National Forest land managed for recreation, fish, and wildlife. The expanded reservoir will drown the remaining homeland of Winnemen Wintu Tribe, who lost much of their tribal territory when Shasta Dam was constructed more than 65 years ago. Reservoir expansion will also destroy and degrade habitat for dozens of sensitive, threatened, and endangered plants and animals. The raised dam will further modify downstream flows, to the possible detriment of aquatic and riparian ecosystems along the Sacramento River important to fish and wildlife. The expansion itself violates state law protecting the free flowing condition and extraordinary values of the McCloud River. It also violates federal law that requires consideration of possible National Wild & Scenic River protection for segments of the McCloud, upper Sacramento, and Pit Rivers, as an alternative to expanding dam.

Because of the size of the DEIS, we’re not yet prepared to ask people to send official comments in response to the documents. But the deadline for public comments is September 26, so there is plenty of time. Meanwhile, the Bureau’s will hold three public workshops next week, which will provide an ideal opportunity for activists and the general public to learn more about this project and ask piercing questions. The workshops are:

  • Tuesday, July 16, 6-8PM in the Holiday Inn Palomino Room, 1900 Hilltop Drive, Redding, CA.
  • Wednesday, July 17, 1-3PM at the Cal Expo Quality Inn Hotel & Suites, 1413 Howe Avenue, Sacramento, CA.
  • Thursday, July 18, 6-8PM, Merced County Fairgrounds Geronimo Building, 403 F Street, Los Banos, CA.

The Bureau will also hold public hearings in the same cities on September 10-12. Look for a detailed alert from Friends of the River before then.

You can review the DEIS online at . You can also download Friends of the River’s fact sheet concerning the dam raise by visiting The fact sheet is based on our review of the preliminary Feasibility Report and DEIS last spring. Please note that some of these issues and concerns may change based on our upcoming analysis of the most recently released DEIS.

For more information concerning this issue, please contact Steve Evans, Wild Rivers Consultant for Friends of the River, phone: (916) 442-3155 x221, email:




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