For years, the politically-connected Westlands Water District has fought to raise Shasta Dam. This debate has been renewed by House Resolution 215, introduced by California Central Valley Congressman David Valadao (R-Hanford), which would override a California law that blocks the dam raise. That project would harm salmon, California’s fishing economy and Indigenous Americans.
This is a big deal for the fishing community. California’s salmon fishery is closed this year for only the third time in history. That closure affects tens of thousands of commercial and recreational fishing workers, tackle manufacturers and retailers, motel and marina employees as well as fish brokers. Fishing families on the coast, the Bay Area and along our rivers feel the impact of this closure every day.
This closure was caused by the mismanagement of Central Valley rivers during a drought. Low spring flows, caused by storing too much water for summer agricultural deliveries, is a major cause of the fishing shutdown. Raising Shasta Dam would represent another blow to the survival of salmon runs and fishing jobs.
In addition to promoting the Shasta Dam raise, H.R. 215 would also lock in Trump-era rules that govern Shasta Dam. Those scientifically baseless and illegal rules allow the Bureau of Reclamation to drain all of the cold water from the reservoir, leaving only hot water to be released in the fall spawning season. This literally cooks salmon eggs downstream before they hatch. Temperature pollution is another major cause of the salmon shutdown.
H.R. 215 would ignore science and block agency efforts to ensure that temperature conditions below Shasta Dam protect salmon.
For salmon and fishing communities, this legislation is a double whammy. It pushes a salmon-killing dam raise and blocks scientific evidence that bolsters stronger salmon protections.
Raising Shasta Dam would flood sites sacred to the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, which lost most of their historic homeland to the construction of Shasta Dam. Raising the dam would flood more important ceremonial sites.
These concerns explain why the state of California opposes the dam raise and why state law prohibits any state role in a dam that backs water further upstream on the McCloud River.
Much of the water from the project would go to the vast Westlands District and its few hundred well-heeled growers. None of that water would benefit San Francisco or Los Angeles. Would those rich farmers pay for the $1.4 billion dam raise? Nope. Westlands wants taxpayers in California cities and across the nation to help foot that bill. When rich industrial agribusiness interests tell cities they should support a dam project, that’s a good time for taxpayers to put a hand on their wallet.
We need action to ensure a reliable water supply and a healthy California environment. We can meet our future water needs through water recycling, efficiency, urban stormwater capture, groundwater sustainably management and other modern tools. We need new, stronger requirements to protect salmon and restore the fishing industry.
It’s a lousy idea to override state law and tap public funds to pay for a Shasta Dam project that’s bad for salmon, fishing jobs, tribes and taxpayers.
Scott Artis is the executive director of the Golden State Salmon Association