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The unfortunate story of Dwinnel Dam and the salmon below  

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Not long ago I wrote an article about the Shasta River and how it is a great river with lots of fishing potential  despite the degradation the river has suffered over many years of abuse. 


On Friday, May 18th, 2012, The Redding Record Searchlight posted a front page headline, “Dam Kills salmon”.  Of course they are referring to the Dwinell Dam that backs up Lake Shastina which is located below the North Slope of Mt. Shasta. Shastina refers to and is named after the large volcano cone which towers up and just below the Mt. Shasta summit.


The Klamath River Keeper environmental group just recently filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the dam that created Lake Shastina (previously called Dwinell Reservoir), is illegally killing federally protected Coho salmon. The district also diverts water from the Little Shasta River and Parks Creek.


Parks Creek flows from Parks Mountain just west of the Weed Airport and Rest Stop on I-5.  It them meanders under the freeway bridge and three miles further east where it enters the Shasta River.  The Little Shasta River runs west from the mountains- Willow, Goose Nest, and Miller Mountain. It joins the main body of the Shasta River just south of the city of Montague.


Records show that Dwinell Dam was built in 1928. I am not sure what else the records show as during that time as there was apparently no concerns for the welfare of the salmon or other fish, for that matter.  My father-in-law, who was raised on the Shasta River told me that as a boy he used to pitchfork salmon in the river. He said the attitude was there was no end to the salmon, common beliefs in earlier times.   Who would go against the progress represented by dairy farming and cattle grazing? Agriculture and domestic water supplies.  It was abundant and all taken for granted, he told me.


Having lived in the area on the banks of the Shasta River, I witnessed firsthand the river’s abuse, whether intentional or unintentional.  Coho salmon spawned on my property each fall and winter.  I found the main difficulty was that after the young salmon were hatched out, they required a considerable amount of time in the river before migrating to the ocean...  During that critical nursery time, the river would be dewatered and then heated up, creating an inevitable deadly environment.


Dwinell Dam built in 1928, was intended to supply drinking water for the town of Montague and irrigation for the various farms and ranches in the district. Prior to the construction of the dam, there was an apparent ruckus between the leadership of the city of Montague and the city leaders of Yreka over the water. Apparently, the city of Yreka offered Montague water from their water from Fall Creek water supply. Montague refused in favor of building Doctor Dingell’s Dam.


Nothing has changed, the City of Yreka has fresh Fall Creek Spring water and the City of Montague survives on lesser quality Lake Shastina Water.


In an article I recently wrote about the trout fishing on the Shasta River, I touched upon that fact that water releases from Lake Shastina were a mere trickle and not conducive to fisheries within its reaches until the river meets Parks Creek and Big Springs. In reality, almost all of the water from Lake Shastina then goes into the Montague Irrigation District canal and is distributed to the city and area ranches.  This practice has been carried on for years.


The Shasta river from the Big Springs all the way to the Klamath River could be labeled a “Spring Creek’ in as much as the water quality and the ecosystem could be managed into a Blue Ribbon trout fishery.  Accordingly, all parties concerned, especially the landowners along the river, would benefit from this. I’m sure all anglers would hope this would be a resolution for the sake of the Coho salmon.





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