Bernhardt is looking to make a massive California dam more massive—and destructive to salmon fisheries

Credit: DWR California

Environmentalists have long opposed efforts to raise the 602-foot-tall Shasta Dam in Northern California due to its illegal impacts on free-flowing rivers, trout, endangered salmon, and rare plants and wildlife. Raising Shasta Dam would also violate state law—which protects the free flow of the McCloud River and the trout that rely on it—and destroy sacred sites of the Winnemem Wintu tribe, which has occupied the area for thousands of years. The U.S. Department of the Interior's own scientists concluded the proposal was too risky in 2015 and blocked it from moving forward for years—until now. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has brought the Shasta Dam expansion back from the dead, but his past work as a lobbyist is also raising eyebrows. For years, Bernhardt was the chief lobbyist for a powerful coalition of California farmers—the same people who now stand to substantially benefit from the project. A higher dam would allow the structure to hold 14 percent more water, much of which would go toward irrigation water for agriculture. The Interior Department is now ordering a new environmental review for the project, but Bernhardt has instructed his agency to skip over those bits about downstream harm to fisheries that need water to thrive (fish are like that). As one San Francisco biologist put it: It’s “like analyzing the impact of a loaded pistol without looking past the nose of the barrel.” 

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