Media Release on Shasta Dam Enlargement: Coming soon to a Supermarket near You: The $12,600 Salmon: Prorating the “Benefits” of Raising Shasta Dam

For Immediate Release September 10, 2013


Coming soon to a Supermarket near You:  The $618,000 Salmon

Prorating the “Benefits” of Raising Shasta Dam

Remember the Pentagon toilet seats?  They caused a ruckus years ago when it turned out each was costing taxpayers more than $600.  But they were a bargain compared to the latest government scam: the $12,600 salmon.

That’s the projected investment “return” on a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation proposal to enlarge Shasta Dam.  The project is touted by the agency and supporting politicians as a means of increasing salmon runs in the Sacramento River.  But the benefits to fish are minuscule and ultimately spurious.  Public hearings are being held this week in Redding, Sacramento and Los Banos on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

Several alternatives are under consideration by Reclamation, and all are flawed. The clear favorite and most “cost effective” alternative -- CP-4 -- is projected to produce 813,000 extra salmon smolts for the Sacramento River system. Sounds like a lot?  It isn’t.  At the typical adult salmon return rate of .13%, this will result in 1,057 additional adult salmon. The construction costs allocated to the taxpayers for this project are $654.9 million.  What’s the bottom-line meaning?  Assuming a 50-year life span for the dam enlargement project, each returning fish will cost taxpayers $12,600!

Obviously, salmon enhancement isn’t the primary motive for this scheme.  What’s the real rationale? Follow the money. A cited boon of the project is water supply reliability for Central Valley Project (CVP) agriculture. Who would be the beneficiaries of this policy?  They’re not hard to identify: A few hundred extremely wealthy, powerful and politically-connected corporate farmers in the western San Joaquin Valley.

In simple terms, the plan will dump two-thirds of the project’s costs on rank-and-file taxpayers, while the Cotton Kings of the western San Joaquin will tighten their grip on deliveries of subsidized water.

Salmon fishermen and conservationists aren’t the only ones disenchanted with this plan.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have never promoted raising Shasta Dam as an effective mechanism for improving salmon populations in the Sacramento River system.

Further, while the plan would enlarge the cold water pool behind Shasta Dam, the Bureau of Reclamation admits that CVP water contractors would get first dibs on the extra water.  In its response to the CP-4 alternative, the agency describes the true situation:

     “The adaptive management plan may include operational changes to the timing and magnitude of releases from Shasta Dam to benefit anadromous fish, as long as there are no conflicts with current operational guidelines or adverse   impact on water supply.”

Additionally, the alleged benefits to the anadromous fish populations downstream of Keswick Dam from higher cold water carryover storage are not enforceable.  Reclamation does not specify in its documentation that the additional water stored for salmon will be under the control of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and/or the California State Water Resources Control Board.  Based on past experience, the modeling in the recently-released Draft Environmental Impact Statement will not resemble actual operations; the additional storage will simply be used to provide larger water allocations for CVP contractors during any given year.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has suggested a number of cost-effective projects that would do much more for salmon survival than raising Shasta Dam. The agency notes that augmenting spawning and rearing habitat, improving fish passage, increasing minimum flows and screening water diversions would pay far greater dividends for the fish than enlarging the dam.

In summary, the effort to raise Shasta Dam for the “benefit of the fish” is wrong-headed and ultimately dishonest. It cannot be rationalized biologically, and the economic justification is likewise absent.  It is pork barrel politics at its rankest, a project that would jeopardize Sacramento River anadromous fish and enrich a narrow and politically-connected constituency at the expense of average taxpayers.




Nick Di Croce, Environmental Water Caucus 805-350-8898

Tom Stokely, California Water Impact Network 530-926-9727, cell 530-524-0315