California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed a lawsuit to block Westlands Water District (Westlands) from taking unlawful action to assist in the planning and construction of a project to raise the height of Shasta Dam. The project poses significant adverse effects on the free-flowing condition of the McCloud River and on its wild trout fishery, both of which have special statutory protections under the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Act prohibits any agency of the State of California, such as Westlands, from assisting or cooperating with actions to raise the Shasta Dam. In addition to the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Becerra, a coalition represented by Earthjustice has filed a separate suit. The coalition includes Friends of the River, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, and Golden Gate Salmon Association.
“This project is unlawful. It would create significant environmental and cultural impacts for the communities and habitats surrounding the Shasta Dam,”said Attorney General Becerra. “Today we ask the court to block this illegal attempt by the Westlands Water District to circumvent state law.”
“Californians decided to protect the McCloud River in 1989 because it’s valuable to all of us. The ill-conceived dam raise would flood a free-flowing reach of the river, harm a prized fishery, and destroy sacred tribal sites. It’s time to end Westlands’ disrespect of the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” said Ron Stork of Friends of the River.
“The dam raise would harm—not help— salmon downstream of the dam. The science, including the findings of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, clearly shows this harm, which is why we’re taking action to protect all of the salmon in the Sacramento River,” said John McManus, President of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
The lawsuit asserts that under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Westlands is prohibited from planning, funding, or assisting with any project that could adversely affect the McCloud River’s flow or its fishery.
Federal studies of the proposal concluded that raising the dam would increase the already inundated portion of the lower McCloud River by 39 percent. This further inundation would have a significant negative impact on the river’s fisheries and habitats, and submerge sacred sites of the Winnemem Wintu Native American Tribe. Much of the Winnemem Wintu’s native land was destroyed by the construction of the Shasta Dam in 1945.
Despite these impacts, Westlands has unlawfully assumed the lead agency status for the $1.3 billion project and has allocated funding of over $1 million for the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act as part of its planning to become a 50 percent cost-sharing partner with the federal government.