Federal officials have approved a plan for demolition of four aging dams on the Klamath River at the foot of the Cascade Mountains on the California-Oregon border, in an effort to open up salmon habitat and restore the river by 2024.
The unanimous decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) allows for the $500 million demolition project, which would return the river to a free-flowing state for the first time in over a century. Removal of the dam could begin as early as the summer of 2023.
On Nov. 17, FERC unanimously approved a request from PacifiCorp to surrender licenses and decommission the Lower Klamath Project’s four hydroelectric dams in Oregon and California, ending decades of debate over the issue.
Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden said in a statement that they viewed FERC’s vote to greenlight the largest dam removal project in American history as “a historic milestone in a decades long effort led by the Klamath community to strengthen this iconic river’s vital habitat and bring salmon back to the Upper Klamath Basin.”
“Clearing this key procedural hurdle was critical to support the ongoing efforts by Klamath stakeholders to restore vibrant salmon runs that sustain commercial and recreational fisheries and have been the core of the cultural, spiritual, and economic well-being of the Klamath Basin tribes,” the senators said.
“The order is a culmination of years of work on the parts of the projects licensee PacifiCorp, on the parts of Oregon and California, on the parts of several state and local, federal agencies, and importantly, on the parts of several local tribes,” FERC Commissioner Allison Clements said.
The nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corp. was expected to take over the Lower Klamath Project license from PacifiCorp and begin dam removal, with possible completion as early as 2024.
American Rivers, which monitors dam removals and advocates for restoration of rivers, said in a statement that removal of the dams would benefit over 300 miles of salmon habitat in the Klamath River and its tributaries.
While there are more steps to be taken, including additional regulatory steps, before deconstruction can begin in 2023, the project that has been decades of struggle and seemed to be falling apart as recently as two years ago, not feels inevitable, American Rivers said.
The states of California and Oregon continue to prioritize river restoration, providing millions of dollars each year for river and wetland restoration projects, American Rivers noted. Along with rescuing the Klamath project during the license transfer process, both states have supported the Klamath Dam removals from the beginning and their restoration ethic should serve as models for states throughout the country, American Rivers said.