Winnemem Wintu Tribe Slams Federal Plan to Raise Shasta Dam


The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on February 6 issued a controversial draft report claiming that a $1.07 billion plan to raise Shasta Dam by 18-1/2 feet is “feasible” and “economically justified,” a contention that the Winnemem Wintu Tribe strongly challenged.

The dam raise would increase Lake Shasta’s storage about 14 percent, supposedly benefitting municipal and agribusiness water users throughout California, according to the “Shasta Lake Water Resources Investigation” draft feasibility report.

Raising the dam would also “increase the survival” of chinook salmon, steelhead and other anadromous fish populations in the Sacramento River by increasing the cold water pool in Lake Shasta, the report claimed.

“Based on analyses to date, all comprehensive plans to enlarge Shasta Dam and Reservoir appear to be technically and environmentally feasible for implementation by the Federal Government,” according to the report. “Based on analyses to date, all 18.5 foot dam raise alternatives appear to be economically justified for implementation by the Federal Government. The 6.5 foot dam raise alternative is marginally justified.”

According to Bureau spokesman Pete Lucero, the Shasta Investigation is one of five surface water storage studies included in the 2000 CALFED Bay-Delta Programmatic Record of Decision and is a continuing feasibility study under the authority of Public Law 96-375.

“The draft documents address the potential impacts, costs and benefits of the No Action alternative and five action alternatives evaluated to date,” according to Lucero. “Reclamation and cooperating agencies are analyzing alternative dam raises from 6.5 to 18.5 feet and corresponding increases of reservoir storage from 256,000 to 634,000 acre feet.”

The documents are available on Reclamation’s website,  

The Winnemem Wintu Tribe, who conducted a historic war dance at the base of Shasta Dam in September 2004 to protest the plan to raise the dam, blasted the report for a multitude of reasons.

EIS is a ‘dehumanizing document’

“How do they justify flooding the Winnemem Wintu people out twice?” asked Caleen Sisk,Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. “They still haven’t fulfilled the 1941 Act of Congress that said they are to provide like lands and pay for all the allotment and communal lands. They still haven’t fixed the cemetery problems as it’s still illegal for us to bury our people in the cemetery they set up, because it is held by the Bureau Land Management instead of the Bureau of Indian Affair like the Act called for. And the Shasta Dam is still not paid for by the public.”

She emphasized that the EIS is a “dehumanizing document – it takes our beautiful culture and summarizes it into a couple paragraphs, and just names a couple sites.”

“It doesn’t describe the importance of the sites to our people or the heartache and psychological destruction it would cause to us if these places were submerged,” Sisk said. “They don’t talk about us as the people most impacted, or the fact we have nowhere else to go to practice our religion. We can only teach our distinctive lifeway to be Winnemem here. It will be extremely hard to teach the tribal youth when you can’t go to the sacred site, see it and feel it and develop a relationship with it to be Winnemem.”

Sisk also noted the limitations of the study – the BOR only spent $8,000 to hire one archaeologist who only did one visit to their tribe.

“How could they possibly know anything about the ‘cultural impact,'” she stated. “Anthropologists, filmmakers and journalists spend YEARS understanding the vast complexity in the survival of an old living culture. They came out here once when they were introducing the whole idea, and they met with us on the river once. They told us they only had an $8,000 budget to do this archaeological report for the 371 shore miles on the lake and the 200 river miles to the Delta.”

Sisk also said it was difficult to understand why the Bureau is consulting 10 tribes when only the Winnemem and Pit River Tribe will be impacted and have cultural sites on Shasta Lake. “We figure they are going to want to be able to say ‘we got 7 out of ten, a majority to agree,’ so that’s too bad for the Winnemem, but we can’t please everyone,” Sisk explained.

Plan wouldn’t increase survival of salmon

Sisk took issue with the Bureau’s claim that the dam raise and expansion would “increase the survival” of” salmon and steelhead – and noted that the study didn’t include any exploration of the possibility of building a water way or “fish swim” around the dam to allow winter chinook to spawn in the McCloud River above Shasta Dam, as the Tribe and its allies have proposed.

“A bigger cold water pool IS NOT what’s best for salmon,” she pointed out. “It seems as that is one of the first goals in the EIS. But, where is the study that shows how just building a water way or fish swim around the dam would benefit and increase the numbers of salmon? A fish swim would be cheaper and produce more salmon spawning grounds in already naturally cold water.”

“It would save millions of dollars in the cost of the cold water pool currently. NOAA has already found that salmon need to go up above Shasta Dam to the McCloud because of climate change. The dam raise would flood more than 7 miles of cold water spawning grounds on the McCloud River, Squaw Creek, and the Sacramento River,” said Sisk.

Other severe flaws she noted in the report include:

The document assigns 61% of the “benefits” and costs to fish and wildlife. “This is a major flaw and major injustice to the public,” said Sisk. The document is based on the 2004 biological opinions, which have been invalidated by the courts. “On first glance, this might have the affect of overstating environmental benefits; it pretty likely would overstate the water supply benefits of the project too,” she stated.

“If we could describe what a sacred site is, maybe they (the federal government) would understand the connected lines and that all of them have a different purpose, and they all help us in different ways,” concluded Sisk. “It’s not like a church where you have everything in one place. We could describe how sacred sites are the teachers.”

The Tribe is now working with a Stanford student on a GPS project to document the sacred sites that are already impacted by the lake level now and to document the Winnemem’s attachment to these places, according to Sisk.

For more information about the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, go to Dancing Salmon Home, a 60-minute documentary still in the making, will chronicle the Winnemem’s remarkable trip to New Zealand in the spring of 2010 where they were reunited with the McCloud River winter run chinook salmon after 70 years of separation.

Peripheral canal, dam expansion designed to increase water exports

The report was released as the Brown and Obama administrations are fast tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral canal or tunnel to export more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and southern California water agencies. The expansion of Shasta Dam will help to create extra storage behind Shasta Dam to facilitate the increase of water exports through the canal.

A coalition of Indian Tribes, Delta residents, family farmers, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and environmental justice advocates is opposing the peripheral canal because its construction would lead to the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, green sturgeon and other imperiled fish species.

A complete Draft EIS will be prepared for formal public review and comment, consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as additional scientific information and understanding of the conditions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is developed and incorporated into the Shasta Investigation. A comprehensive public outreach effort will be part of the NEPA process.

For questions, please contact Katrina Chow, Project Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 2800 Cottage Way, MP-700, Sacramento, CA 95825, or fax 916-978-5094 or e-mail kchow [at] To request an electronic copy of the draft documents, please contact Louis Moore at 916-978-5106 (TTY 916-978-5608) or e-mail wmoore [at] Copies of the documents may also be viewed at Reclamation’s Regional Library, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento, 916-978-5593. For more information about the Shasta Investigation, please visit


Dan Bacher is an editor of The Fish Sniffer, described as “The #1 Newspaper in the World Dedicated Entirely to Fishermen.”


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