America’s Biggest Dam Demolition To Save The Endangered Salmon

November 30, 2022
3 mins read
Credit: Michael Wier / CalTrout

 PORTLAND, Oregon : The four hydroelectric dams on the lower Klamath River, one in southern Oregon and three in California,  are planned  to be demolished, making this the biggest dam removal project in American history. The major reason being the persistence of the indigenous communities along the river demanding the rejuvenation of salmon numbers in the water bodies.  

In order to safeguard vulnerable migratory salmon, federal authorities released a final environmental impact statement that calls for the removal of four major dams on the Klamath River in Northern California.

The five members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will vote on the nearly $500 million project later this year based on the staff’s proposal, which essentially mirrors an initial draft decision.

According to officials, the vote represents the last significant hurdle in what will be the biggest dam removal project in the country’s history. Environmental groups, commercial fishing organizations, and indigenous tribes that fought for the river’s rehabilitation for 20 years have backed the $500 million demolition.

Older dams close to the Oregon-California border were constructed before there were any environmental restrictions, thus cutting the 253-mile (407-kilometer) river in half for salmon that are migrating down it. Because of the extreme drought, warmer waters, low river flows, and competition for water with agricultural interests, migratory salmon have been severely impacted.

The project on the second-largest river in California would lead the charge to remove dams across the country as concerns about their environmental effects, notably on fish populations, mount as the structures get older and less economically feasible.

Tribes in Northern California have been fighting to have the dams removed for years. They cheered the most recent news.

“We can see the end of the tunnel for the dam removal”, according to Karuk Chairman Russell. “Everyone in our river towns who has worked so arduously for the past 20 years to fulfill our vision of river restoration has made them incredibly proud”.

Federal and Californian legislation both identify the coho salmon from the river as threatened, and its population has decreased by anywhere between 52% and 95%. The Klamath Basin’s once-largest run of spring chinook salmon has decreased by 98%.

The fall chinook salmon, the last to persist in any substantial numbers, have been so scarce over the previous few years that the Yurok Tribe for the first time in history decided to stop fishing last year. They purchased fish from a grocery shop in 2017 for their yearly salmon festival. In recent years, a disease that thrives when river levels are low was found in up to 90% of juvenile salmon samples.

If the dams were still in place, PacifiCorp, a power utility, would probably have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars retrofitting the buildings to meet modern environmental regulations. The utility has stated that the electricity produced by the dams no longer accounts for a sizable portion of its power portfolio as things stand.

Regulators initially objected to allowing PacifiCorp to totally abandon the project, which led to the first demolition proposal failing. A historic agreement established in 2020 makes Oregon and California equal participants in the destruction with the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, a nonprofit organization that will manage the project. In addition, that agreement increased the project’s $450 million budget by $45 million in response to worries that the available money wouldn’t be sufficient to pay any overruns.

Some detractors have criticized the governors of Oregon and California for taking financial responsibility for cost overruns and have criticized the fact that a portion of the project is funded by a California water bond that was authorized by the state’s voters.

Flood control is a concern for some local and state politicians, and locals who live near a sizable reservoir built by one of the dams and have unsuccessfully sued to block the project.

The Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2, and J.C. Boyle dams, all located in Oregon, would be demolished making way for the rejuvenation of salmon numbers.

“KRRC is very pleased by the Commission’s decision today,” said Mark Bransom, Chief Executive Officer of KRRC, “This important milestone reflects decades of collective work by the many dedicated Signatories of the Amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement to restore the Klamath River and we are prepared to begin the largest dam removal and river restoration effort in U.S. history.”

Once KRRC and the States of Oregon and California have reviewed the terms of the surrender and accepted the June 2021 License Transfer Order, which will transfer ownership of the dams from PacifiCorp to KRRC and the States, the decommissioning process will begin. Within 30 days of today’s License Surrender Order, the parties anticipate accepting the Transfer Order.

Sakshi Bafna

Sakshi Bafna has completed her graduation in Business Administration and now completing her Masters in Journalism. Apart from being an aspiring graphic designer, her hobbies are to travel and she is an Ambivert.

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