Plan Released for Klamath River Dam Removal

Important milestone for the most significant dam removal and river restoration effort in history.

By Amy Souers Kober | June 29, 2018
John C. Boyle Dam by Wikimedia Commons user Bobjgalindo
John C. Boyle Dam by Wikimedia Commons user Bobjgalindo

The Klamath River was once the third largest producer of salmon on the West Coast. But for nearly 100 years, four dams have blocked salmon and steelhead from reaching more than 300 miles of historic habitat, and have caused toxic algae outbreaks that harm water quality all the way to the Pacific Ocean, more than 190 miles away.

That’s all about to change, with the most significant dam removal effort in history. And today, we marked an important milestone in the push to remove the river’s four dams — J.C. Boyle, Copco 1, Copco 2, and Iron Gate. The Klamath River Renewal Corporation, the entity managing the dam removal project, submitted its plan to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as part of its application to transfer the license for the four dams and remove them.

Demolition Details

Known as the Definite Plan, the 1,500-page document provides comprehensive analysis and detail on project design, decommissioning, reservoir restoration, and other post-deconstruction activities.

For example, the plan describes how the reservoirs behind the dams will be drawn down, or drained, carefully and relatively slowly in a process that will take two to three months. Demolition of the dams will follow during the dry season (June to October). A five to ten-year restoration plan will ensure lands formerly inundated by the reservoirs are stabilized and restored with native plants.

What comes next? FERC will use the information to make a decision on the license transfer application. If FERC approves the transfer application, it will then turn to the dam removal application – the final approval we need. We are hopeful that the project will stay on track, with dam removal beginning in 2020.

Smart Move for Ratepayers

Dam removal makes sense from both an environmental and an economic perspective. The four Klamath dams produce a nominal amount of power, which can be replaced using renewables and efficiency measures and without contributing to climate change. In fact, since we started working on this project over 10 years ago, 10 times as much wind, solar and geothermal capacity was produced than is provided by these dams.

In 2008, the Public Utilities Commissions in Oregon and California concluded that removing the dams, instead of spending more than $500 million to bring the dams up to 21st century safety and environmental standards, would save PacifiCorp customers more than $100 million..

The World’s Biggest?

The Klamath River project will be the most significant dam removal and river restoration effort yet. Never before have four dams of this size been removed at once which inundate as many miles of habitat (4 square miles and 15 miles of river length), involving this magnitude of budget (approximately $397 million) and infrastructure.

But perhaps more important than the size of the dams is the amount of collaboration and the decades of hard work that have made this project possible. American Rivers has been fighting to remove the dams since 2000. And thanks to the combined efforts of the Karuk and Yurok tribes, irrigators, commercial fishing interests, conservationists, and many others, our goal of a free-flowing river is now within reach.

Protecting Rivers, Restoring Damaged Rivers

21 responses to “Plan Released for Klamath River Dam Removal”

  • shawn neely says:

    I live in chiloquin Oregon..cant wait too see the upper basin loaded with steelhead and salmon..might even see some lovely eels..imagine the giant rainbows we have here in the Williamson gorging on multiple runs of spawning salmon..oh..and the cutts and runs of fishing shangrala..glad I moved here..!!

  • Marc Varner says:

    Take a look at Mt. St. Helens, Salmon recovery was thought impossible, in seven years it was phenomenal, but then they brought the hatcheries back and that knocked out the native fish. Keep the Government run hatcheries out. And if it did take until 2050, which it won’t, the sooner the better.

  • John Isbell says:

    Most of you have missed the greatest benefit that Dam removal Does. By allowing the rivers to run freely, they do not warm up, and, the water entering the Ocean is cooler. This is what keeps the Oceans cooler and helps to prevent Global Warming .. We simply have too many Dams blocking too many rivers, which is causing Global Warming.


  • Liam McAuliff says:

    Thanks for the good questions. The dams we’re removing on the Klamath provide no irrigation diversions, no drinking water diversions and no significant flood control benefit. The dams were built for hydropower but managing the aging structures today costs more than they’re worth.

    Check out this link for the latest on the Klamath:

    And, please see to learn more about the costs and benefits of the dams on the lower Snake River. There are cost-effective alternatives that can replace the benefits of those dams. With Northwest tribes facing longstanding injustices, salmon declining, orcas starving and the rivers heating up with climate change, we need urgent action now from our Northwest elected officials.

  • Stephen Sherman says:

    All of the talk of salmon restoration is nice. However, this may be fairly short sighted in the long run. If these dams provide water for irrigation of crop land, how much cropland will end up being lost? If the river flows uncontrolled, what will be the flood damage in really wet years? Will the river still be navigable? Will downstream towns and cities be adversely affected?

    These were/are major issues pertaining to the Columbia River also. Before the dams on the Columbia were built, the Columbia from the Tri-cities, WA to the ocean was unnavigable. In rainy years, major flooding was a real problem. Additionally, a large amount of crop land is now irrigated with water from these dams. Plus, these dams mostly have fish ladders and produce a good amount of electricity. Plus, water from these dams is used by communities as a major source of their water. But, that’s the Columbia.

    My point is that it is easy to become short sighted and want dams to be removed. But, there are other considerations that need to be taken into account. Just removing dams to save salmon may not be the best solution. And, never assume that any politician is well versed in potential options. And, while other options may be initially costly, they may be the most cost effective in the long run and provide the best results.

  • Ken Martin says:

    It’s about time these dams are removed. I have seen the damage the dams have had on the salmon population over the past 30-years. The amount of salmon unable to spawn each year is catistrophic.
    Speaking of catastrophic events, ever watch the results of “gil-netting?” The killing of shubs ( small salmon), steelhead and other less valued species the tribes can’t or will not sell to breath retail outlets. These species die in the nets and are thrown back into the Klamath River like trash to be carried out to sea; becoming seal, crab and shark food; all the time depleting the species in the river….. What a wonderful management program that is: NOT!!!!!

  • Susan Farrar says:

    I suggest that individuals concerned about silt removal following the dam project should look at the results following the removal of the dams on the Elwha River ( Within 2 weeks silt had moved to from the dam sites to the coast — an estimated two-thirds of the sediment behind the dams has now moved downstream, with 90 percent of it reaching coastal habitats.. In addition, the estuary became more healthy and supported more wildlife. Dungeness crab, shrimp and forage fish liked by salmon, birds and other marine life quickly moved in to colonize the new sandy terrain.

  • Ron Patrick Ward says:

    Aspects concerning beaver and common muskrats must be addressed with Ancestral Knowledge in the Upper Watershed! Beavers provide many riparian manage, ment activities in their ecological form by their actively being present and exercising their prowess in coho habitats favorites including backwater channels, pools, water retention, and physical presence as a steward of fisheries habitat which has been demonstrated by numerous studies. Common muskrats now are well documented in their special adaptations and management of vegetative cover, floating vegetation rafts, active procuring of bulrushes, cattails production and yearly growth cycles by removing rank material, and providing fresh nutrient cycling improving productivity and managing water flow. Studies indicate that in the upper reaches these two can form bonds of commensal opportunities as the two species are very tolerant and beneficial to insect populations, water tables, nutrient uptake and diversity: whereby, other species of insects, clams, and other species can occupy available niches. Coho are known to be sympatric with these species as they prefer the slower backwaters and continue to actively manage waterflows, thereby, forming a water table and variance through seasonal patterns, water flows, and other riverine conditions.

  • Robert Lasby says:

    Your all nuts!!!!!!Just think of the silt that will go down the river. A documentary I watched said it would be to 2050 before the river could sustain the Salmon if this happens I hope you are proud of yourselfs.

  • Robert Lasby says:

    I think you are all nuts. I watched a documentary on removal years ago . It said the silk that would go down the river would take until 2050 before salmon could use the river. Also you are taking away any flow regulation for towns a long the river. Just go ahead and Do it!!! Really too Bad!!

  • Mark says:

    Seriously Gates,Buffet,freaking everyone needs to deal with the largest natural disaster ever recorded and no one is doing anything about it…….. Malaria has killed more people than any thing and well tetnus is whst they fight in like 4 countries. Seriously I dont know what they are thinking but who am I

  • Joseph M. Paliani says:

    This inspiring feat shows the way for other dams to be deconstructed, i.e. The Columbia and Snake Rivers dams. Let’s hope they too are removed soon to restore the failing salmon and steelhead fisheries. Dam removal is the only way to restore our native fisheries.

  • John says:

    The Gates Foundation provides ~50% of the funding for the World Health Organization, WHO of the UN. They are doing good work in addressing disease and its prevention throughout the world.

  • Abe Levy says:

    Removal of dams is one of the most important goals in water management of our time. Thanks so much for your efforts on the Klamath River and the dam on the upper Mississippi River.

  • Ann says:

    Very unfortunately the Gate Foundation gives no funds to any environmental efforts. All their funds are geared towards their moto: every person deserves to live a productive life (or something like that). So with all of their billions none is spent helping the environment, wildlife, forests, oceans. Nothing. Look at their website.

  • Nicole Rodriguez says:

    This is a phenomenal endeavor and great applause to all the hard work and dedication! It’s motivating news. High hopes FERC will keep the ball rolling.

  • Susan hutto says:

    Why haven’t you applied to the “bill gates foundation”for funds to restore these rivers.I feel they might assist in all of America’s river restorlation projects.

  • Jim says:

    Wonderful story, I am really looking forward to seeing this go forward! But note that you need to edit this sentence of yours in the 6th paragraph: “In fact, since we started working on this project over 10 years ago, 10 times as much wind, solar and geothermal capacity than is provided by these dams.”


  • Bill Stone says:

    This is a great start. Also, stop gill netting on the Klamath River.

  • Danika Cuchetto says:

    My heart is bursting! So much love for FERC and America. Rivers. FREE OUR RIVERS!

  • Gayle Engle says:

    i support this effort and applaud the combined efforts of s concerned to bring this to reality .

    Wildlife depend on give salmon runs. Healthy
    rivers are good for all life

    Man’s interference has taken a deadly toll. only be reversing these structures can natural systems
    come back

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