Shasta Dam Raise
H’up Chonas (War Dance) Against the Dam
Guided by prayer and messages from the mountain, we held our first H’up Chonas (war dance or dance in the old way) since the late 19th century at the Shasta Dam in Sept. 2004. The dam raise would flood many of our sacred sites that are vital to our religion. Without them, we could no longer be Winnemem.
The War Dance was not a declaration of war against the American people but a promise to resist against the dam raise and the forces that would cause our destruction through it.
The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) plans to complete its environmental impact study on the dam raise this year, and the Westlands Water District has since purchased 3,000 acres of land surrounding the McCloud River in anticipation of a larger reservoir. The H’up Chonas also continues, and we will fight until the end.
From the Sacred Land Film Project, a short film about the Shasta Dam H’up Chonas
Dam Raise: A Huge Loss for Everyone Except Big Ag
The BOR and supporters of the Dam Raise claim it will provide needed water storage for a growing, thirsty California. They also claim it will be an economic stimulus to the local economy.
Here are important facts they will not say:
- The dam raise would cost the public hundreds of millions of dollars and yield a relatively small amount of very expensive water.
- Because dams don’t create water (they merely capture rain and snowmelt), the firm yield that can be reliably produced on an annual basis depends on annual rainfall. The hypothetical firm yield of water produced from the 6.5 foot raise ranges from 20,000 to 72,000 acre feet. The hypothetical firm yield of the 18.5 foot raise is 71,000-146,000 acre feet.
- In comparison, if farmers producing low-value alfalfa were to conserve a mere five percent of the water they consume, it would save nearly one million acre feet of water.
- Construction costs for the 18.5 foot raise range from $408-483 million, with annual costs of $28-34 million. Therefore, the cost of the water produced a raise ranges from $220-270 per acre-foot. This is not competitive with the $50 to $150 per acre-foot paid by Central Valley farmers.
- Historically, dam construction provides a temporary boom for the economy, leading to a long-term bust. This is what happened after the Shasta Dam’s construction and this is what will happen after a dam raise.
- Salmon restoration is a far more sensible, cost-effective economic stimulus that will provide long-term rather than short term benefits.
Damming a Culture: Then and Now
Millions of people around the world have seen their homes submerged by the construction of dams and their subsequent reservoirs. The Winnemem not only lost our villages on the McCloud River when the Shasta Dam was erected during World War II, we also lost many of our sacred places beneath Shasta Lake. These are places to which we hold an emotional and religious connection, and their loss remains a void in our lives as Winnemem.
In the early 2000s, it started to become evident we might relive the same nightmare as the Bureau of Reclamation started seriously investigating a Shasta Dam raise from 6-feet to 200-feet to increase the supply of irrigation water for large agricultural businesses. The BOR sees this as a viable alternative even though just as much water could be produced through conservation measures or by treating the 60-feet of sediment that has collected at the bottom of Lake Shasta in the past 70 years.
If there were only a few hundred people left who practiced Islam or Judaism, would the country support knocking down the last mosque or the last temple?
That is what a dam raise would do to the Winnemem.
A dam raise of about 18-feet, the most likely scenario, would permanently or seasonally flood an estimated 39 sacred sites along the McCloud River, including Puberty Rock, and would essentially end our ability to practice our culture and religion.
Information on the Shasta Dam raise:
- Sacred Land Film Project’s fact sheet
- “At War Against Dam, Tribe Turns to Old Ways,” New York Times, Sept. 13, 2004
- EJCW’s Shasta Dam raise analysis
- KQED Forum on the Shasta Dam Raise, featuring Caleen SIsk-Franco, Toby McLeod and Jeff McCracken from BOR