Trump’s Interior Pick Wants to Heighten California Dam

Among the controversies facing US President Donald J. Trump’s Secretary of the Interior nominee, David Bernhardt, is his proposal to heighten California’s Shasta Dam, which would increase the capacity of the state’s largest reservoir by 630,000 acre-feet, and flood part of the McCloud River.

Bernhardt began Senate his confirmation on March 28. The Senate Energy Committee voted on April 4 to send Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination as Secretary of the Interior to the full Senate for a final vote. He was nominated for the position after his predecessor, Ryan Zinke, resigned last year amid mounting ethics concerns. Bernhardt could become the second Secretary of the Interior under Trump to threaten glacier landscapes and watersheds in the western US.

Glacier and snow melt from Mount Shasta, which has the most glaciers of any mountain in California, comprise much the McCloud’s flow. The 47-mile river is one of four major tributaries that feed Lake Shasta, which was created with the completion of the Shasta Dam in 1945.

President Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Interior wants to heighten Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet (Source: Bureau of Reclamation/Flickr)

State politicians, environmental groups, and native peoples in the region, particularly the Winnemem Wintu, have mobilized to resist the proposal as it undergoes environmental review. They point to adverse environmental and cultural impacts as well as ethical concerns with the project.

Opponents of raising the dam cite Bernhardt’s former position as a lobbyist for Westlands Water District, a Fresno-based provider of irrigation for Central Valley agriculture and a likely beneficiary of additional Shasta reservoir capacity. This week the New York Times reported that Bernhardt continued to lobby on behalf of Westlands for several months after he claimed to have discontinued lobbying activities. The US Bureau of Reclamation, an agency within the department Bernhardt would oversee, has offered to pay for half of the $1.4 billion cost of heightening the Shasta Dam. Local and state partners are expected to foot the other half. Westlands Water District, Bernhardt’s former client, is the only agency to offer funding so far.

Bernhardt is also a former oil and gas industry lobbyist with a track record of challenging environmental regulations, including the expansion of offshore oil drilling and attempts at weakening key provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

A New York Times investigation published last week revealed Bernhardt blocked the release of a report which highlighted the threat presented by pesticides to 1,200 endangered species. Prior to his position in the Department of the Interior, Bernhardt worked to undo protections surrounding California’s critically endangered delta smelt. The small fish is used as an indicator species for environmental quality in the San Francisco Bay-Delta

In response to Bernhardt’s nomination, more than 160 conservation groups signed a letter on March 26, urging Senators to oppose confirmation, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Mount Shasta provides much of the flow for the McCloud River, and other river in the region (Source: Nienke Bruinsma/Flickr)

On the McCloud River, endangered and threatened species are also at risk. A lawsuit attempting to block the Shasta Dam heightening project cited three species of salamander which would be imperiled on the McCloud and other rivers. According to the California Wilderness Coalition, the McCloud is not protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, though state protection prohibits the construction of new dams on the river.

Ted Grantham, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California Berkeley, told the Berkeley News, “That area is protected under state law, and the state is opposing it just for that reason. But it’s not just that. The Winnemem Wintu’s cultural influence would be impacted. And there would be repercussions for salmon, trout and salamanders. There are a lot of wrinkles that make this plan problematic.

The Winnemem Wintu are an unrecognized Native American tribe indigenous to the McCloud River watershed. Their name translates to “Middle Water People,” as the McCloud River is bounded by the Upper Sacramento to the west and the Pit River to the east. The tribe’s website reads, “We were born from water, we are of the water, and we fight to protect it.”

A Winnemem Wintu child at a ceremony in 2009 (Source: Michael Marmarou/Flickr).

The Winnemem Wintu ancestral lands were submerged in 1945, when the lower reaches of the McCloud River flooded behind the new dam. The tribe hopes to preserve the few sacred sites remaining above water. “We’re unique to that river. And that’s the only river that can make us that. And we’ve already lost a lot,” Winnemem Chief Caleen Sisk said in a January 2018 scoping meeting hosted by the Westlands Water District. “The Winnemem people have nowhere else to go to become Winnemem people. We have to have that river and there’s so little of it left.”

The river is storied among fly-fishermen, who pilgrimage there to fish for rainbow and brown trout. Before Shasta Dam blocked the return of anadromous fish, the McCloud River was one of the most productive salmon and steelhead waters in the Sacramento Watershed, according to Cal Trout, a non-profit steward of wild fish and rivers in the state.

https://www.dfg.ca.gov/fish/Resources/WildTrout/Waters/images/LowerMcCloudRiver-1200x900.jpg
Fly fishing in California’s McCloud River (Source: California Department of Fish and Wildlife).

William Hagen, professor emeritus in the history department at University of California Davis, has experience fly-fishing on northern California rivers. “To raise Shasta so as to wipe out miles of riffled and white water, when so little such primal water remains, is very deplorable,” Hagen told GlacierHub.  “All other routes to water conservation should be taken first.”

The dam-raising proposal comes at a time when many dams are being removed due to inefficiencies, ecological degradation, and coastal erosion. American Rivers, a non-profit group which advocates for protecting wild rivers, reported a record 86 dams were removed in the US in 2017, while another 82 were taken down in 2018. Significant dam removals are scheduled this year, including four hydroelectric dams on northern California’s Klamath River, into which runoff flows from the glaciers on Mount Shasta’s north slopes.

Due to climate change, snowpack in California is expected to decline 25 to 40 percent by 2050. While the climate trend toward less available water is encouraging water managers to increase storage capacity, reduced water availability raises questions about the efficacy of raising the dam.

Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke (left) and deputy secretary David Bernhardt (right) at Bernhardt’s swearing in ceremony in August 2017 (Source: Department of the Interior/Flickr).

“Big, new dams will not remedy California’s water challenges,” the National Resources Defense Council said in 2014. “The dramatic declines in snowpack and changes in streamflow timing raise serious flags about California’s outdated approach to water supply storage, requiring the state to reconsider and change how new and existing reservoirs are managed.”

How realistic is the dam project and its threat to the ecology and Native Americans of the McCloud? “My view is they will ultimately be stopped,” John McManus, who heads the Golden Gate Salmon Association, said to KQED, “but I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

What Snow Algae in the Pacific Northwest Could Reveal About Life on Mars

Last-Chance Tourism Spurs Eco-Consciousness and Climate Change

Unearthing Rock Glaciers: Hidden, Hydrological Landforms

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Photo Friday: Glaciers in Twilight

On July 27, night-gazers rejoiced in watching the full moon, which also presented the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. The total phase of the eclipse lasted 1 hour 42 minutes and 57 seconds, eclipsing January 2018’s total lunar eclipse by approximately 26 minutes. The waning gibbous phase of the moon can be seen this week as a daytime moon.

This Photo Friday, enjoy the beauty of the moon rising over glacier-covered mountains in the Cascades during the daytime. The Cascade range extends from southern British Columbia through the states of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. It includes both non-volcanic mountains as well as glaciated volcanic mountains such as Mt Adams.

Daytime moon over Mt. Adams during sunrise (Source: Jeff Hagan/Earth Sky).

 

Daytime moon during sunset at Mount Rainer (Source: Max Pixel).

 

Moon rising over Mount Baker during Sunset (Source: Briarcroft.wordpress).

 

Sunset at Mount Shasta in California with daytime moon (Source: Jeff Hollett/Flickr).

 

Moon and Mt. Hood as seen from Hillsboro, Oregon (Source: M. O. Stevens/WikiCommons)

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Roundup: New Bacteria, Poetic Shasta, and Glacial Melt

New Bacteria Discovered at Tibetan Glacier

From Microbiology Society: “A cold-tolerant, translucent, yellow-pigmented, Gram-stain-positive, non-motile, rod-shaped bacteria was isolated from snow of the Zadang Glacier on the Tibetan Plateau, PR China. 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity analysis indicated that the isolate was closely related to Conyzicola lurida KCTC 29231 and Leifsonia psychrotolerans DSM 22824 at a level of 97.72 and 97.49 %, respectively. Other close relatives had a 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity of less than 97 %… Based on phenotypic and chemotaxonomic characteristics, strain ZD5-4 was considered to represent a novel species of the genus Conyzicola, for which the name Conyzicola nivalis sp. nov. is proposed.”

Read more about the new species of bacteria here.

An aerial image of the Tibetan Plateau where a new species of bacteria was discovered (Source: NASA/Creative Commons).
 

U.S. Geologist Clarence King’s Poetic Mount Shasta

From Project MUSE: “But, for all his complexities, King’s recorded observations of wilderness places rise above his life’s convolutions. Unfortunately, what escapes many scholars is the remarkableness of King’s writing, an irony considering its salience; in fact, King’s brilliance is best illustrated in his lexical finesse, poetic flights of language, and artistic verisimilitude of nature’s beauties.”

Learn more about the poetic perceptions and mastery of language of the late geologist Clarence King here.

Sunrise over Mount Shasta (Source: Michael Zanger/Creative Commons).
 

New Insights on Glacier Meltwater

From Geophysical Research Letters: “Arctic river discharge has increased in recent decades although sources and mechanisms remain debated. Abundant literature documents permafrost thaw and mountain glacier shrinkage over the past decades. Here we link glacier runoff to aquifer recharge via a losing headwater stream in subarctic Interior Alaska. Field measurements in Jarvis Creek (634 km2), a subbasin of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, show glacier meltwater runoff as a large component (15–28%) of total annual streamflow despite low glacier cover (3%)… Our findings suggest a linkage between glacier wastage, aquifer recharge along the headwater stream corridor, and lowland winter discharge. Accordingly, glacierized headwater streambeds may serve as major aquifer recharge zones in semiarid climates and therefore contributing to year-round base flow of lowland rivers.”

Read more about the new research here.

The Tanana River, Alaska (Source: Ron Reiring/Creative Commons).

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Glaciers are muddying rivers, with drought to blame

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ericleslie/8212279250/in/photolist-cCuW6s-dndS9U-edti9N-5CUoh2-dFUvMh-4YfzPv-cnpRiA-963PNi-dvG5vy-dGjfwN-61HCUp-cE8Vrf-eyqfiG-nXoKTN-6BUxNx-3pWnxe-cE8UT1-28USLJ-28USLj-abgYeY-6BYE3S-6BUxFV-6BYj6E-6BUcMP-4A9txp-kyMExc-8GmWUy-47PCcj-8scuUp-a8KUSA-5CYFmQ-4AdKGC-4LYtr9-81CDP4-nXh4gG-8gbnvM-3wUuC-52FeVn-5cMp6m-3K1an6-8iHxMK-6Sdi8N-cE8Uts-cE8TW9-NMktt-aKU4XH-8iAb3u-7LZc1C-cE8NYh-5hWkDf
Rivers off of California’s Mount Shasta are increasingly becoming brown. (Eric Leslie/Flickr)

Water flowing off snow-capped mountains has the image of being absolutely pure, but the rivers and streams of California’s Mount Shasta are unusually brown, and geologists are pointing at drought as the cause.

News surrounding the drought in California inundates the media, but we often hear about dying crops and brown lawns. This time it’s the tourism and fishing industries that are up in arms.

Paradoxically, the heavy river flows are caused by the same climatic variations that have created drought throughout the state. A dry winter left California’s glaciers exposed to the sun, without their usual protective cover of snow. Hot weather in the summer is rapidly melting them, particularly on Mount Shasta, home to the state’s largest glaciers. The mountain’s porous volcanic soils can absorb some meltwater, but their capacity has been overwhelmed this summer, and the meltwater is causing debris flows, muddying rivers and streams. More commonly known as mudslides, debris flows are flows of water, rock, soil and other organic material that course downslope, becoming destructive torrents when they enter streambeds. They can muddy the waters of rivers that are usually pristine.

http://www.climatecentral.org
Saying California’s drought is spreading quickly is a small understatement. (Climate Central)

This year, the rapid melt of the mountain’s south-facing Konwakiton Glacier has left the McCloud River opaque with volcanic ash. These highly turbid rivers are not novel phenomena. In the past century, severe debris flows like the current one have been witnessed seven times, particularly in the 1924, 1926 and 1930, other dry years for the region, when debris flows blocked roads and railroads, rendering them impassible for days. During this period in the 1920s, the McCloud River was unfishable. The murky waters do not harm the fish, but simply make them nearly impossible to catch.

https://www.dfg.ca.gov/fish/Resources/WildTrout/Waters/images/LowerMcCloudRiver-1200x900.jpg
Fly fishing in California’s McCloud River is one of the many activities to be affected by brown rivers caused by drought. (California Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Fly fishermen, fly fishing tour guides, and local businesses that relying on tourism fear that the current drought, and the associated glacial melt, debris flows and cloudy waters, will be detrimental to the local economy during the fishing season this fall and in the future years. Some fly fishing groups have already cancelled tours that they had booked—another sign of the cascading effects of glacial melt around the world.

For another story on the effects of glacial melt on fisheries, click here.

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