Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

January 29, 2015

Federal fish agency opposes Shasta Dam raise



Photo: Mark Miyoshi and Chief Caleen Sisk watch as Jesse Sisk and James Ward work on lighting the ceremonial fire in September 2014. Photo by Dan Bacher.   
Federal fish agency opposes Shasta Dam raise 

by Dan Bacher 
Censored News
The Winnemem Wintu Tribe, fishing groups and environmentalists have been fighting a federal plan to raise Shasta Dam for many years, since the 18-1/2 foot proposed dam raise would flood many of the Tribe's remaining sacred sites and further imperil salmon and steelhead populations on the Sacramento River. 

The Tribe held a war dance at Shasta Dam in September 2004 to oppose the dam raise - and conducted another war dance in September 2014 to oppose the dam expansion and the Brown Water Plan to drain the Delta. 

“Any raising of the dam, even a few feet, will flood some of our last remaining sacred sites on the McCloud River – sites we still use today,” said Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Chief and Spiritual Leader. "We can't be Winnemem any place else but the McCloud River. The dam raise is a form of cultural genocide." 

“We pray that the spirit beings hear us and bring all of our helpers, from the high mountain meadows all of the way to the ocean,” she stated before the war dance began. “Our concern is the health of the waterways. We are here at the dam that blocks the salmon on a river that should be full of salmon.”


She described Shasta Dam as “a weapon of mass destruction” against the Winnemem Wintu and said the idea of dams is a “horrible archaic project.” 

The campaign by the Tribe and their allies to stop Shasta Dam from being raised received a boost when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued a revised draft report on the proposed enlargement of the dam revealing how the dam raise will indeed harm salmon populations. 

The agency concluded that it cannot support any of the proposed action alternatives, including the preferred alternative presented by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency controls and operates the dam. 

The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) issued a controversial draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on dam enlargement in 2013. The project must be approved by Congress - and justified by both economic and environmental rationales, according to a joint news release from the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). Taxpayers would pay for two-thirds of the $1.1 billion project, 

In an earlier cost/benefit analysis, BOR determined that payments by Central Valley Project water and power customers alone would provide minimal justification for the project economically. Consequently, 61% of the "economic justification"' now touted by the agency is a larger cold water pool behind the dam to "improve" Sacramento River salmon survival during critically dry years, the groups said. 

In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) stated in its recent draft report that the project is not justifiable because it provides no net benefits to salmon, and will result in negative environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated. 

"The limited benefit derived from dam enlargement and the preferred alternative CP4A during dry and critically dry years will likely be offset by river conditions downstream of RBPP (Red Bluff Pumping Plant) in the mainstem Sacramento and the Delta," the report stated. "The enlargement of Shasta Dam and the water management scenario described for CP4A will reduce the rearing capacity of the Sacramento River for juvenile salmonids by further altering the natural successional process of riparian forest habitat, and by reducing juvenile salmonid access to the high quality rearing habitat found in floodplains and bypasses because of reduced high water flow events." 

Tom Stokely, water policy analyst for the California Water Impact Network, commented, “This report documents the Bureau of Reclamation’s own data that shows the project will not benefit salmon in the Sacramento River. We knew all along that the Bureau of Reclamation had a phony economic justification to enlarge Shasta Dam. Now we have another federal agency agreeing with us.” 

Stokely said it is clear that any water that would result from the enlargement of the dam “is intended for the poisoned lands of the Westlands Water District south of the Delta. This is just another deception by BOR to provide more subsidized water under the guise of a public benefit.” 

The USFWS report further stated that the Bureau of Reclamation would have considered several options that were removed early in the consideration process if salmon restoration had been a true priority. 

Those actions include repairing the multi-million dollar Shasta Dam temperature control device; restoring the riparian corridor along the Sacramento River; operational changes to Shasta Dam to increase cold water storage and increase minimum flows; increasing water use efficiency in local canals; and considering conjunctive use of other existing and planned water storage facilities in the Central Valley. 

“It’s instructive to note that all these actions would cost a fraction of dam enlargement,” said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “This isn’t just an environmental and fisheries issue. It’s about the squandering of taxpayer dollars. It’s about pork barrel politics, about public money flowing from the public coffers to the handful of corporate farmers in the San Joaquin Valley who control water in California.” 

Responding to the report, Chief Caleen Sisk said, "While the US Fish and Wildlife biologists are on track, they offer no resolve as to a 'fix.'" She criticized the agencies for refusing to include the Tribe in efforts to restore wild salmon. 

"So far the US Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA and BOR have not included the Winnemem Wintu Tribe in the solutions to address the wild Chinook," Sisk emphasized. "There are no studies, that I am aware of, that address the flooding of salmon spawning grounds, unless they have finally realized that the raise of Shasta Dam will flood the Sacramento River, McCloud River, and Squaw Creek. These are all possible rich spawning waters that will be flooded by the 18.5' raise." 

"Perhaps the BOR is now being held accountable for more than the 'cold water pool' to help salmon," she said. "The Shasta Dam raise EIS cites no effort to provide a swimway passage for the wild winter run and all runs of Chinook, nor makes any effort to assist salmon in the mountain waters." 

The Tribe has been trying for years to restore winter run Chinook to the McCloud River above Shasta Lake by reintroducing the original strain of winter Chinook that are now thriving in the Rakaira and other rivers in New Zealand, but the federal agencies have to date refused to back their efforts. 

"There is no effort to work with the Indigenous Peoples of the McCloud River Watershed," said Sisk. "The BOR's plans for wild winter run Chinook fall desperately short of a real viable production of salmon." 

She concluded, "The Winnemem Wintu stand ready to assist as soon as Sue Fry of the Bureau of Reclamation will allow us to participate in the plan." 

Jennings noted that the report is only a revised draft, and that it could be "steamrolled" by the Bureau and politicians controlled by corporate agribusiness. 

“Given the political implications of the report, CSPA is very concerned that it may be rewritten by Obama Administration political appointees who support enlargement of Shasta Dam,” he said. 

Jennings also said the Bureau of Reclamation’s "egregious dishonesty" in spinning the “benefits” of enlarging Shasta Dam also calls into question the economic justification for other new or enlarged dams planned for California, including Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat. 

Both these projects may be eligible for funding under Proposition 1, Governor Jerry Brown's water bond that the voters approved in November. The Winnemem Wintu Tribe, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, California Water Impact Network and other Tribes and organizations opposed Prop. 1, while agribusiness, the oil industry, Big Tobacco, corporate environmental "NGOs," timber barons, billionaires, other corporate interests and the Governor spent over $16.4 million to pass the bond. 

But Stokely emphasized, "the evidence is increasing that they’re economic and environmental boondoggles, and will provide little if any benefit in mitigating the state’s water crisis." 

“The Stanford Woods Institute recently came out with a study stating that underground storage is six times more cost effective than surface storage,” Stokely said. “Obviously, destructive and expensive infrastructure projects are the wrong track. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had the guts and integrity to say as much. We applaud them for it.” 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Revised Draft Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act Report on the Shasta Lake Water Resources Investigation can be found at 

The Stanford Woods Institute report on underground storage costs compared to surface storage can be found at 

For more information, go to: 
California Water Impact Network (C-WIN): 
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance: 
Winnemem Wintu Tribe:


Photo of Putah Creek by Dan Bacher.

Putah Creek: A Wild Trout Fishery Reborn

by Dan Bacher

The Pleasant Valleys Road Bridge over Lake Solano, a still-water section of Putah Creek above the Solano Diversion Dam, used to be a popular spot where anglers from throughout the area would congregate to catch rainbow trout on a variety of offerings. But the bridge is nearly deserted now any day you cross it.

On weekends, families, including many farmworkers from the Winters area, would spread throughout the river and accesses on the creek, to catch trout. The Department of Fish and Wildlife planted the lake with lots of rainbow and brown trout for decades, providing a good put-and-take fishery. Many of the fish would grow to become big, fat holdovers.

The creek below Monticello Dam, the dam that forms Lake Berryessa, has constant temperatures of 50-55 degrees because the creek draws from the cold depths of the lake’s water, creating a classic “tail water” fishery. However, the popularity of the fishery in declined dramatically after rainbow and brown trout plants ceased in both the creek and lake in 2008.

Although the popular planted trout fishery is no longer, the creek has been reborn as a trophy trout fishery and there is now a wild, self-sustaining rainbow population in the creek and lake. The California Fish and Game Commission, responding to a request by Putah Creek Trout, other angling groups, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, designated the fishery as a trophy “Wild Trout” stream in December 2014.

CDFW stopped stocking Putah Creek and Lake Solano with catchable trout when the Department was sued by the Center for Biological Diversity and other NGOs in regards to effects of its fish stocking on ESA and CESA listed species, according to Stephanie Hogan with the DFW Heritage & Wild Trout Program.

“Hatchery trout impacts on sensitive native species include predation, competition, and changes to ecological relationships. Interbreeding with native trout could alter genetic composition of wild populations such as hatchery fish breeding with Central Valley steelhead,” she said.

Since the Department stopped stocking, the Department and Putah Creek Trout have been monitoring the wild trout fishery and angler use on an annual basis. Along with this, they have successfully completed numerous habitat restoration projects, increased outreach to anglers, and have an ongoing research study to track localized movements of trout within the system.    

“Our efforts have shown an increase in the wild trout fishery, particularly an increase in smaller size classes, which is indicative of a healthy spawning population,” she said. “Putah Creek is a productive fishery with some of the highest observed growth rates in the state, which lends itself well to having some very large, 18-plus inch trout in the system.” 

Steve Karr, Executive Director of Putah Creek Trout, said the number of trout has quadruped in the 4 miles of creek below Monticello Dam since they began their surveys.

“The average size of fish in the creek now is under 10 inches, but there is a good population of 12 to 18 inch fish. The trophy fish over 20 inches are about 10 percent of the fishery, he said.

 He said the number of fish spawning on redds (nests) in the creek has also risen dramatically.

“We saw 89 adult fish spawning on redds the first year, 150 the next year and then 400 last year,” Karr noted. 

However, there is limited spawning gravel on the creek, so his group and agency are working to improve spawning habitat.

The habitat restoration efforts on Putah Creek are designed to improve habitat to increase salmonid populations both above and below the Solano Diversion Dam, according to Hogan. 
“Efforts above the Lake Solano diversion will aid wild trout populations that support the newly designated Wild Trout Water Fishery,” she said. “Restoration effort below the diversion dam will improve habitat for both anadromous salmonids (Central Valley steelhead and Chinook salmon) as well as resident trout.” 

Hogan said the dams are the main issue because they are fish passage barriers and reduce the frequency of high-flow events that deliver spawning gravels and scour gravels to free them of sediment. 

The Department recommended to the Fish and Game Commission that Putah Creek be designated as”Wild Trout Water” because it is a popular fishery that provides anglers with a unique opportunity to catch trophy-sized trout. 

“These fish are wild and self-sustaining and Putah Creek receives quite a bit of angling pressure,” Hogan said. “By including it in the Wild Trout Program, it will be actively monitored and managed to ensure the self-sustaining fishery is maintained concurrent with the angling pressure it receives. Along with the designation comes the requirement to create a Fishery Management Plan and this will outline recommendations on how best to monitor and maintain it for future generations of wild trout anglers.”  

She said that there have been no genetic studies of the trout conducted that she is aware of, but the fish in Putah Creek above the Diversion Dam are considered a coastal rainbow trout. The three most-common species in the creek are coastal rainbow trout, three-spine stickleback and sculpin, all of which are native.  No brown trout have been detected in the surveys.

“Sculpin are very well-camouflaged in the substrate but if you were to go to the lower portion of Putah Creek near Lake Solano, you can see thousands of three-spine stickleback darting around in the slower water; it is quite cool,” she said. 

Other native species include pike minnow, western mosquitofish and Sacramento suckers. A few non-native bluegills have also been captured in the lower portion of the creek, according to Hogan.

In tribute to the restoration efforts on the creek, over 100 salmon were reported in the lower creek in the fall of 2014. I asked her why the numbers in the creek have gone up in a year when the numbers of salmon in other Central Valley rivers dropped from the two previous years.

“It is likely that most of these salmon are strays from other Central Valley streams,” said Hogan. “Along with habitat restoration, required water releases by the Solano County Water Agency may have improved conditions for salmon in recent years.  During this drought winter releases may have attracted more salmon upstream.”

Below the Solano Diversion Dam, anglers can find a sleeper fishery for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, carp, sunfish, channel catfish and some rainbow trout in the the upper, cooler reaches. However, most of the access is on private land.

Karr noted that Putah Creek is unique is being the only designated trophy “wild trout” fishery on the west of the Sacramento Valley and is the closest one to Bay Area anglers.

“The fishery was in really bad shape after the trout plants stopped,” Karr said. “Now the fishery is rebounding and I’m proud our group has been able to work with the CDFW in a cooperative program to restore the fishery.”

For more information about Putah Creek Trout, go to

Putah Creek Council, a group dedicated to the protection and enhancement of Putah Creek and its tributaries through advocacy, education and community-based stewardship, conducts tree, shrub and planting along the creek and Lake Solano. For more information, go to

Lake Solano/Putah Creek Facts:

Season: Putah Creek is open to trout fishing year round. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. There is a zero limit on trout.. 

Lake Solano from the Solano Diversion dam to the Island Split is open year round also, but anglers aren’t restricted to artificial lures with barbless hooks. There is a five fish limit on trout, but catch and release is highly advisable since the neither the lake or creek are no longer planted with trout any more.

Lake Solano County Park:  A destination point for outdoor enthusiasts since its creation in 1973, Lake Solano Park caters especially to anglers, boaters, campers, swimmers, sunbathers and picnickers. The lake is 1.5 miles long and has a capacity of 750 acre feet of water. Owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Solano has been administered as a recreational area by the County of Solano since 1971. More than 200,000 visitors a year enjoy a wealth of recreational activities both on and off the water.

Campground: The County operates a campground with 90 campsites, of which 40 have water and electric hookups. There are restrooms which have flush toilets, sinks and hot showers.

Day Use Facilities: The day use area has picnic sites, group picnic facilities, and a free boat launch for non-powered vessels, parking, restrooms and a public telephone. The picnic area is located directly east of the campground. Paddle boat and canoe rentals are available on the weekends. To contact Lake Solano Park call 530-795-2990.

Yolo County Putah Creek Fishing Access. Five access points are provided for fishing along the creek as its winds it way along Highway 128 from below Monticello Dam to the Pleasant Valley Road Bridge. The access  offers picnic tables, barbecues, parking and sanitary facilities.

Guide Service: Craig Bonovich, Bono’s Putah Creek Flyfishing Guide Service, (800) 480-5285 or (707) 480-3809, He guides for wild rainbow trout in Putah Creek from March 1 through October 31.To protect spawning trout, he doesn’t fish from November 1through the end of February.

New Zealand Mudsnails: For tips on preventing the spread of this invasive species, go to:

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