[env-trinity] Big California water agency steps back from Shasta expansion. Environmentalists still worry

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Sun Nov 10 18:54:33 PST 2019


https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/environment/article237165159.html

Big California water agency steps back from Shasta expansion. Environmentalists still worry

BY RYAN SABALOW AND
 
DALE KASLER
NOVEMBER 08, 2019 12:11 PM, UPDATED NOVEMBER 08, 2019 05:36 PM   
   - https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/environment/article237165159.html#storylink=cpy   


The nation’s largest water agency signed an agreement that legally bars it from participating in a controversial plan to raise Shasta Dam, a move applauded by environmental groups that fiercely opposed the proposal out of fears enlarging the state’s biggest reservoir would swamp a stretch of a protected Northern California river and flood sites sacred to a Native American tribe.

Late Thursday, Westlands Water District signed a legal settlement with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra that prohibits the water district from working in a formal way on planning to raise Shasta Dam near Redding. 

Westlands’ participation is considered crucial to the project’s coming to fruition.
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However, Westlands general manager Tom Birmingham said the settlement doesn’t completely end Westlands’ potential involvement in the project. He said Westlands is still allowed to launch a study “in the abstract” of whether raising the dam would harm the McCloud River, as environmentalists and state officials argue.

“We have not formally backed away from the project,” he said. 

If Westlands’ study shows the project wouldn’t hurt the river, Birmingham said Westlands would then have to decide whether to jump back into the formal planning process. He acknowledged that if Westlands decides to resume planning, it will get sued again.

Raising Shasta Dam has been on the books, and highly controversial, for years. California officials say it would violate the state’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the Obama administration tabled the project over funding questions. But President Donald Trump’s administration has tried to move the project forward.

Shasta Dam holds back the state’s largest reservoir. The water stored inside its 400 miles of shoreline supplies farms and cities across the Central Valley. Raising the dam 18 feet, as federal officials have proposed, would expand Shasta Lake’s storage capacity by 14 percent, or 634,000 acre-feet — providing the potential for increased water deliveries to downstream agencies such as Westlands.

Under current federal law, the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Shasta, can’t raise the dam unless local water agencies contribute half the money – and so far Westlands is the only agency that has publicly said it wanted to contribute to the $1.3 billion project.

Westlands, which serves farmers across more than a half-million acres of land in Fresno and Kings counties, had been pushing for the project for years, even spending $35 million in 2007 to buy a seven-mile stretch of land along the McCloud River in an effort to derail any local opposition. The settlement filed Thursday specifically prohibits Westlands from buying any more real estate to make the project a reality.

Earlier this summer a judge in Shasta County Superior Court issued an injunction temporarily halting Westlands from helping plan the project. After the California Supreme Court refused to hear Westlands’ appeal in late September, Westlands signaled it was bailing out on the project, announcing it was halting participation in environmental reviews.

Environmentalists said they hoped Westlands’ departure would end the dam project once and for all, but weren’t sure.

“Time will tell. Some of these really bad water projects … seem to be like zombies,” said John McManus of the Golden State Salmon Association. “We kill them but sometime later they seem to pop back to life.” He said the project would hurt salmon runs on the Sacramento River by allowing the reservoir to hold back more water needed to prop up struggling fish populations.

Ron Stork of Friends of the River gave the dam-raising project a “50-50” chance of being dead for good.

“If Westlands chooses to drop the project, then any other water district in California could pick it up,” Stork said. “But they’d face the same or similar legal thicket that Westlands did.” He said it’s also possible the federal government could say, “We don’t need your stinkin’ permits’ from the state of California and just try to go it alone.”

The project is still being pursued by the Trump administration.

“Reclamation continues to explore options with several non-Federal cost-share partners to implement the project,” U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Jeffrey Hawk said Friday in an emailed statement that didn’t specify which agencies are in talks.

Westlands officials have long argued the project would cause minimal environmental harm. 

A 2015 feasibility study by the U.S. Interior Department said the inundation would run 3,500 feet upriver, only about two-thirds of a mile of the lower McCloud River where it flows into Shasta Lake. The stretch of the McCloud in question also already lies between two dams, Shasta and McCloud.

The latter holds back a small reservoir 17 miles upstream from the Westlands property.
Westlands officials do acknowledge raising the dam would flood sites sacred to the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, but they contend it would only happen in the rare winters and springs when the lake is full.

Attorney General Becerra Secures Settlement Against Westlands Water District for Unlawful Participation in Shasta Dam Project

>From the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra:


California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced a proposed settlement against Westlands Water District (Westlands) resolving allegations that Westlands violated California law by illegally participating in a project to raise the height of the Shasta Dam. The proposed settlement would bar Westlands from any attempt to move forward with the project that would pose significant adverse effects on the free-flowing condition of the McCloud River and on its wild trout fishery. The river and fishery retain special statutory protections under the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Act prohibits any agency of the State of California, such as Westlands, from assisting or cooperating with actions to raise the Shasta Dam. The settlement, filed in the Shasta County Superior Court, resolves Attorney General Becerra’s lawsuit filed on May 13, 2019, alleging that Westlands’ participation in the project was in violation of the Act. In addition to the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Becerra, a coalition represented by Earthjustice filed a separate suit, which is also resolved as part of the settlement today. The coalition includes Friends of the River, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, and Golden State Salmon Association.

“This unlawful project would have hurt the McCloud River, and the communities and species that depend on it,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Westlands’ attempt to engage in this process violated the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In spite of this, the District attempted to force its way forward. We applaud the court for blocking this project and are thankful that this matter has come to a close. You might have friends in Washington D.C., but that doesn’t place you above the law.”

“Westlands illegally tried to get around California law, and the courts said no,” said John McManus of the Golden State Salmon Association. “This agreement is a win for all salmon fishermen because the Sacramento River is the biggest salmon producer in the state and would be badly damaged by the raising of the dam. It’s also a win for all Californians who care about clean water and fish.”

The settlement resolves allegations that Westlands unlawfully assumed lead agency status for the $1.3 billion project and allocated over $1 million for the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as part of its planning to become a 50 percent cost-sharing partner with the federal government. Under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Westlands is prohibited from planning, funding, or assisting with any project that could adversely affect the McCloud River’s flow or its fishery. Federal studies of the proposal concluded that raising the dam would increase the already-flooded portion of the lower McCloud River by 39 percent.

As a result of the lawsuits, on July 29, 2019, the court granted a preliminary injunction that halted Westlands’ continued participation in the project and led to Westlands withdrawing its CEQA notice.
Today’s settlement would bar the district from undertaking any action that would constitute planning or construction to raise the Shasta Dam including:
   
   - Initiating preparation of an environmental impact report or other environmental review document as part of the CEQA process;
   - Entering into any agreement to fund, directly or indirectly, activities intended to raise the dam;
   - Entering into any agreement that would assist any agency of the federal, state, or local government in planning or construction to raise the dam; or
   - Acquiring any property to facilitate the raising of the dam.

A copy of the settlement can be found here.

Fishing and Conservation Groups Hold Up Illegal Plan to Raise Shasta Dam


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Fishing and Conservation Groups Hold Up Illegal Plan to Raise Shasta Dam

This week, a coalition of fishing and conservation groups represented by Earthjustice signed a stipulation with ...
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FISHING AND CONSERVATION GROUPS HOLD UP ILLEGAL PLAN TO RAISE SHASTA DAM 
New agreement limits water district’s support for the projectNOVEMBER 8, 2019Fresno, California — 
This week, a coalition of fishing and conservation groups represented by Earthjustice signed a stipulation with Westlands Water District that stymies the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s plan to raise Shasta Dam, a destructive project that would harm the protected McCloud River, take water from imperiled ecosystems and fish, and flood sacred sites of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. In the signed stipulation, Westlands, the largest agricultural water district in the country, and a major beneficiary of federal dams, agreed not to take unlawful actions in support of Reclamation’s ill-conceived project.

“This is an important step in our fight to stop the Trump administration from running roughshod over California’s environment,” said Ron Stork of Friends of the River, a California river protection organization that opposes the dam raise.

The agreement is the result of three complementary lawsuits filed earlier this year after Westlands initiated a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, signaling that it planned to enter into an agreement to help fund the destructive dam raise. Represented by Earthjustice, Friends of the River, Golden State Salmon Association, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Institute for Fisheries Resources, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit in May 2019 alleging that Westlands was violating the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. That law that protects the free-flowing McCloud River, which is home to a world-class trout fishery and sacred tribal sites still in use today. The State of California filed a similar case on the same day, and North Coast Rivers Alliance (NCRA) and San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association filed an additional lawsuit in July.

After the California Supreme Court affirmed a preliminary injunction preventing Westlands from taking any action that constitutes planning related to the Shasta Dam raise, Westlands halted its CEQA process.

The State of California and NCRA also signed stipulations with Westlands this week. In each of the stipulations, Westlands has agreed not to resume the CEQA process, enter into any agreement to fund the dam raise or to assist with the planning or construction of the dam raise, or acquire additional real property to facilitate the dam raise, to the extent doing so would violate the law.

“Westlands illegally tried to get around California law, and the courts said no,” said John McManus of the Golden State Salmon Association. “This agreement is a win for all salmon fishermen because the Sacramento River is the biggest salmon producer in the state and would be badly damaged by the raising of the dam. It’s also a win for all Californians who care about clean water and fish.”

“We entered into this agreement because it throws a wrench in Reclamation’s plan to raise Shasta Dam, which is a salmon killing project that threatens millions of fish and thousands of jobs by trapping the Sacramento River behind an even bigger concrete curtain,” said Noah Oppenheim of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

Anna Stimmel, an Earthjustice attorney representing the coalition stated, “Going forward, Earthjustice will remain vigilant with our clients and partners to ensure that Westlands and the Trump administration don’t violate the law and put the interests of corporate agriculture over the interests of the environment, fishermen, and tribes.”

According to a timeline posted on Reclamation’s website, before the three lawsuits were filed, Reclamation had planned to secure a cost-share partner by August 2019 and make a decision about the project by September 2019 so that is could award construction contracts by the end of 2019. Reclamation has missed these deadlines, and it is unclear whether it will move forward with the project. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior is a former Westlands lobbyist, and the Trump administration has been keen to revive the project after it was shelved under Obama. If Reclamation does proceed, the State of California and fishing and conservation groups will be watching, and they are ready for the fight.


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The Interior Secretary Wants to Enlarge a Dam. An Old Lobbying Client Wo...

David Bernhardt is backing a plan to raise the height of the Shasta Dam in California even though his department...
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“This unlawful project would have hurt the McCloud River, and the communities and species that depend on it,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Westlands’ attempt to engage in this process violated the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In spite of this, the District attempted to force its way forward. We applaud the court for blocking this project and are thankful that this matter has come to a close. You might have friends in Washington, D.C., but that doesn’t place you above the law.”
“This stipulation helps ensure this harmful project — which does not meaningfully contribute to water security for all Californians — is never built.” said Drevet Hunt of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But the fight is not over,” Hunt continued, “it’s time for California to invest in alternatives, like urban and agricultural efficiency, stormwater capture, and water recycling projects that reduce our unsustainable reliance on the Sacramento River and help to restore California’s valuable salmon fisheries.”
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