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Water District Settles in Scheme to Raise Water Level in Dam

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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra 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.

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