Dam Demolition in California, Oregon Could Help Restore Klamath River Salmon Habitat

A portion of the Klamath River in California. Photo: Tupper Ansel Blake/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A new report in Smithsonian magazine details how demolition of four aging dams slated for removal from the Klamath River in 2023 could help restore hundreds of miles of historical salmon habitat in California and Oregon.

The project was made possible by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in November 2022 approving $500 million for the project that Native American tribes and environmentalists have been urging for years.

Chrysten Rivard, Oregon director for nonprofit conservation group Trout Unlimited, said the Klamath River has been Exhibit A for how dams, drought, imbalanced water management and climate change can strangle a river, but is now poised to become a prime example of how an entire river system and all those depend on it can be renewed.  

The four PacifiCorp dams slated for removal – Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and JC Boyle – currently produce enough electricity to power 70,000 homes while running at full capacity. The article notes that the dams themselves have intensified water warming, algal blooms and stagnation

PacifiCorp itself had been facing a bill for hundreds of millions of dollars to meet environmental regulations that were not in effect when the dams were built costs that would have exceeded the price of demolition, so PacifiCorp agreed to the project.

Meanwhile, opponents of the dam demolition have voiced concerns over potential flooding, decreased property values and whether dam demolition will actually benefit salmon.

Brandon Criss, chair of the board of supervisors for Siskiyou County, Oregon, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that if the project doesn’t help the salmon, then they will have all the problems, none of the solutions and be left holding the bag.