Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu Tribal Chair, in Front of Shasta Dam • Photo copyright: Toby McCloud

Winnemem Wintu Sacred Sites may benefit from Biologists’ Report

Will the U.S. Bureau of Fish and Wildlife Biologists’ Report

Save the Sacred Sites of the Winnemem Wintu?

In 2014, Sacred Sites International launched a Letter-Writing Campaign to help the Winnemem Wintu, of Northern California protect their sacred sites from flooding from a proposed raising of the Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet.  And, the Wintu and the McCloud River Watershed, were featured in our 2008 Most Endangered Sites List.

We feared that the Winnemem Wintu sacred places were going to be lost when, in November 2014, California voters approved a $7.545  billion Water Bond with $2.7 billion earmarked for new water storage. The water storage portion of the bond could provide funding for the raising of Shasta dam.

We learned, however, on January 28, 2014, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a 394-page revised draft Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act report concluding that they cannot support any of the dam project’s 5 options under consideration. None of the options for raising the dam’s level would benefit endangered salmon – the primary justification given for the project. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was using a fraudulent premise for raising the height of the dam and for justifying billing taxpayers $655 million out of a total cost of 1.1 billion for the project.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns Shasta Dam is claiming that the 18.5 foot increase in the dam would result in the lake behind the dam storing 14% more cold water, enough to boost the population of Chinook salmon. However, biologists at Fish and Wildlife have said that habitat restoration along the Sacramento River would be a better solution than any of the proposed options for the dam. The biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also found that historic rainfall records show that there would be no benefit in 90% of the years, and in some cases, negative impacts.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that despite slight benefits to winter and spring run Chinook salmon upstream from the Red Bluff Pumping Plant (RBPP), conditions downstream of the RBPP are so poor in drier years, that upstream benefits are completely negated.

The concern is that some of the report’s language might be changed and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Regional Director, Ren Lohoefener, who was appointed by former Assistant Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald, a Bush appointee. It should be noted, that Julie MacDonald was the subject of an investigation finding that she rewrote biologists’ findings to benefit extractive industries.

The Bureau of Reclamation must take the biologists’ recommendations under consideration and is still scheduled to release a final Environmental Impact Statement which they need to provide to the Interior Secretary before Congress can consider whether to fund the project.

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