SACRAMENTO, October 6, 2020 – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today sent a comment letter opposing the Trump Administration’s effort to raise the Shasta Dam by up to 18.5 feet. In the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra argues that the proposal by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) relies on an incomplete draft supplemental environmental impact statement. Raising the level of the Shasta Dam poses significant adverse effects on the free-flowing condition of the McCloud River and on its wild trout fishery. This effort would have a significant negative impact on the river’s fisheries and habitats, and submerge sacred sites of the Winnemem Wintu Native American Tribe.

“The Trump Administration should stop tampering with California’s waters. BLM’s latest attempt to unlawfully raise the Shasta Dam is a poorly-cloaked move to evade the Clean Water Act,” said Attorney General Becerra. “As long as Trump officials keep trying to skirt the rules, we’ll keep them honest.”

In the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra asserts that the Bureau can’t fast-track the project under the Clean Water Act because Congress hasn’t authorized the dam raise. The Bureau would also need permits from the State Water Resources Control Board and other authorities to proceed. In addition, the letter stresses that the project could degrade habitat for threatened fish in the San Francisco Bay-Delta, including juvenile salmon, California Central Valley steelhead, longfin smelt and Delta smelt. Further, 

  • The Bureau’s environmental analysis also fails to disclose the degradation to riverfront habitat, which would accelerate the loss of the western yellow-billed cuckoo and Shasta snow-wreath;
  • The Bureau must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Services before proceeding with the proposed dam raise;
  • The Bureau’s environmental analysis fails to propose actions to offset environmental damage from the dam raise. It also unlawfully ignores state-law protections for the McCloud River and the river’s wild trout fishery;
  • The Bureau must consult with tribes and address impacts to cultural resources. The proposed project would eliminate approximately 20 sacred Winnemem Wintu sites, including a burial ground and prayer rock;
  • The Bureau failed to address comments submitted by state agencies during earlier iterations of the permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act; and 
  • The Bureau’s environmental analysis lacks meaningful mitigation measures for wetlands impacts.

The 602-foot-tall Shasta Dam and 4.55 million-acre-foot Shasta Reservoir are located on the upper Sacramento River. In February 2020, the Bureau set aside $8 million for preconstruction engineering and design work to raise the dam and enlarge the Shasta Reservoir. In June 2020, the Trump Administration requested construction funding in the federal budget to raise Shasta Dam.

Last year, Attorney General Becerra defeated an attempt by Westlands Water District to push forward the Bureau’s proposal to raise Shasta Dam. Today’s comment letter continues the California Department of Justice’s efforts to prevent this harmful proposal from moving forward.

A copy of the comment letter can be found here.