The federal government is fast tracking a plan to raise the Shasta Dam, already the 8th highest dam in the country, by nearly two stories. The plan, aimed at increasing California water storage and helping central valley farmers, is predicted by officials to cost around $1.3 billion.
While there are many arguments for and against this project, there is one stretch of river near Shasta Lake that could ultimately decide its fate.
The McCloud River, a beautiful tributary flowing directly into Shasta Lake, sits right in the middle of the controversial project. The raising of the dam would flood the lowest part of the river, essentially drowning out an area full of popular fishing destinations, active wildlife sanctuaries and ancient Native American sites.
While people pose many arguments against the raising of Shasta Dam to support water storage initiatives in the state, it’s the McCloud River that may just nix this 20 year proposal once and for all.
The Wild and Scenic Waters Act was created by Congress in 1968 to “preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” The McCloud River is protected under such act and raising the dam would cause significant changes to the river.
This is how the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act reads:
“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
“The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes.”
The sentence in the Act that’s under scrutiny is the “shall be preserved in free-flowing condition” part. The section of the McCloud River that would be flooded by the project sit between the Shasta and McCloud Dams. Proponents of the project argue that that portion of the river is already not free-flowing.
Another part of the river that stirs controversy pertaining to the project are the ancient Native American sites. When the Shasta Dam was built in the 1940’s, the Winnemen Wintu tribe lost their homes, burial sites, sacred places and all runs of native salmon to the raised water along the McCloud River. A sacred part of the tribe’s culture, Puberty Rock, is already half submerged under water during higher water levels. Raising the water level would submerge the sacred monument forever, ostensibly erasing the physical legacy of the tribe.
In 20017, the Westlands Water District purchased a 7-mile stretch along the river in order to slither around the Wild and Scenic Waters Act. Much of the land purchased are ancient sites for Winneman Wintu Tribe. Today, Westlands gives the current tribe members the code to the gate in order to access the sites. If the dam is raised, the site would be submerged underwater.
While the federal government and powerful water agencies in Central California push for the dam to be heightened, it seems to be opposed by most Northern Californians who would see their area significantly altered from the project. It may be the beautiful stretch of the McCloud River that stops this charade once and for all.