6 Things You Need To Know About The Klamath River Dam Removals
4 dams on the Klamath River are being removed after nearly 100 years of blocking fish migration, encroaching on indigenous culture, and harming water quality
Update January, 2024: Copco No. 2 was fully removed in October 2023, marking the first of four dam removals along the Klamath River. The other three dams on the Klamath River that are part of this project are slated to begin removal in January of 2024!
For nearly 100 years, dams on the Klamath River have blocked salmon and steelhead trout from reaching more than 400 miles of habitat, encroached on indigenous culture, and harmed water quality for people and wildlife. The time has finally come for the four dams – J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, and Iron Gate – built between 1908 and 1962, to come down. This river restoration project will have lasting benefits for the river, salmon, and communities throughout the Klamath Basin. Here are 6 things you need to know about the Klamath River Dam Removals.
- One of the largest dam removals in world history
Four dams along the Klamath River, which runs from Oregon into northwestern California, are scheduled to be removed in 2023 and 2024 – Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, Iron Gate, and JC Boyle. These dams total 400 vertical feet and choke fish passage along hundreds of miles of waterways, making this a historic opportunity and one of the largest dam removal projects to date. And construction has started! American Rivers is working in partnership with Tribal Nations, NGOs, the state and federal government, and local communities to ensure the health of the Klamath Rivers and the people who depend on its vitality.
- Tribal advocacy created this opportunity
Tribal nations whose ancestral lands and histories have intersected with the Klamath watershed since time immemorial – including the Hoopa, Karuk, Yurok, Shasta, Klamath and Modoc people – have spearheaded the collective effort to remove the Klamath dams. The health of the Klamath is a key facet of these peoples’ history, culture, and subsistence, and tribal leadership and perspective has profoundly shaped the course of events on the Klamath over the past two decades. Tribally led advocacy included a high-profile protest when Berkshire Hathaway and PacifiCorp executives visited the Klamath in 2020. River advocates, led by the tribal nations, pushed the executives to join the effort to remove the Klamath dams.
Guardians of the River
In this film by American Rivers and Swiftwater Films, Indigenous leaders share why removing four dams to restore a healthy Klamath River is critical for clean water, food sovereignty and justice.
- Many years, many players, many obstacles
Dam removal is far from a linear process, and the journey to get to the key milestone of removal began decades ago. Though Tribes had been advocating for dam removal prior to a series of legal conflicts amongst rightsholders in the Klamath basin in 2001, a catastrophic fish kill in 2002 catalyzed wider action for dam removal. Following the fish kill, which resulted in the death of nearly 70,000 adult salmon, Tribes, NGOs, agencies, the States of California and Oregon, and individual rightsholders began working together collaboratively to address the health of the Klamath River and its communities and the movement towards dam removal began to gain momentum. Discussions around a far-ranging restoration plan in the Klamath basin began in 2005, with a proposed plan introduced to Congress in 2010. This initial legislation, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), failed to pass through Congress. After the KBRA failed, several parties to that agreement worked to find a solution to dam removal, ultimately known as the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA). The signatories to the KHSA, which include several NGOs, Tribes and the States of California and Oregon, created this plan as way to get dam removal done without having to seek Congress’ approval. Under the KHSA, the states and PacifiCorp take on the liability for and cost of the dams’ deconstruction, avoiding Congress entirely. This Agreement was signed in 2016, setting this new path in motion and creating the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, the entity tasked with removing the dams.
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- Creating ecological resilience
Removing the Klamath dams promises a wide range of ecosystem benefits that enhance regional climate resilience and aid the imperiled salmonid populations that once surged into the watershed from the ocean (now only 5% of historic averages). Significantly, dam removal expands spawning habitat for fish. Damming on the Klamath has also contributed to warmed water temperatures, leading to toxic algae blooms and decreased dissolved oxygen in the river. By removing the four dams, we can help bring salmonid populations back from the brink, while restoring habitat for other species. Restoration doesn’t end with the removal of the dams: additional restoration on Klamath River tributaries is needed to enhance fisheries, as well as the other flora and fauna that depend on healthy rivers to thrive. Land that was formerly inundated in reservoirs will be revegetated with native plant species following dam removal through natural seed dispersal, assisted by a program to plant millions of native and culturally significant starts and trees, providing ecologically vital riparian habitat.
- Strengthening communities through dam removal
As salmon in the Klamath River have declined, commercial and recreational fishing have had to periodically close, impacting tourism, fishing, and other economic drivers. Dam removal along the Klamath will create newfound recreation opportunities for local communities, while also helping provide and sustain the comprehensive impacts healthy rivers have on communities, including subsistence. PacifiCorp also determined that dam removal was the best economic decision for ratepayers in the region.
- Key Dates to Know
June 2023 – The removal of Copco No. 2, the smallest of the dams, begins.
September 2023 – Full removal of Copco No. 2 and its related infrastructure is expected to be completed.
January 2024 – Reservoir draw down begins for Iron Gate, Copco 1, and JC Boyle and will continue through the spring. Once drawdown is completed, dam removal and lakebed restoration activities will begin.