Demolition of Klamath River Dams Begins

A portion of the Klamath River in California. File photo by Tupper Ansel Blake/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A project to remove several Klamath River dams to provide new spawning grounds for thousands of fish throughout Oregon and California is underway as of last week.

The deconstructing of Copco No. 2, the smallest of four hydroelectric dams, is scheduled for removal from the river by the end of next year. The decision of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the dams is considered to be the biggest milestone for the $500 million overall demolition project, which environmentalists and Native American tribes have supported for years.

The Klamath River Renewal Corp. report on the social media site Facebook said that crews began to  remove the gates, walkway and two of five bays on Copco No. 2 the week of June 22 and that remaining bays would direct waters around the dam, rather than over it, to allow construction activities during the summer months.

The initial project includes a negotiated agreement between Karuk Tribe, Yurok Tribe, California, Oregon, conservation organizations, commercial fishing organizations and dam owner PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

The Klamath River Renewal Corp. noted on its website that dam decommissioning would improve habitat and health of fisheries by allowing salmon, steelhead and lamprey access to over 400 stream-miles of historic spawning habitat upstream of the dams.

Decommissioning is also expected to help prevent stagnant reservoirs from increasing water temperatures in the summer and help alleviate the poor habitat conditions that contribute to fish diseases below the dams, the renewal corporation said.

The Klamath dams trap nutrient rich waters in shallow reservoirs, resulting in massive blooms of toxic blue-green algae that pose a threat to wildlife and human health, trapping heat and depleting oxygen, further degrading the water supply, the corporation said.

The dams set for removal do not provide irrigation diversions for agriculture; they’re operated solely for the purpose of generating power, and removing the dams will not affect any current water rights, the corporation said.