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Largest dam removal project in US history gets green light in California


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted on Thursday to clear the license for four dams on the Klamath River to expire, giving the final green light to the largest dam removal and river restoration project in history. from the country.

Federal regulators’ vote opens the door for construction of the first of four hydroelectric dams next year in what has been a two-decade effort to free up the once mighty river that spans southern Oregon and Northern California.

The goal of this nearly half a billion dollar project is to restore the health of flora and fauna in the vast Klamath Basin, especially the salmon. The fish once numbered in the hundreds of thousands and boasted the third largest run of salmon in the continental United States. Removing dams from the 250-mile waterway will open up fish passage, improve river flow and uproot toxic algal blooms.

The removal of the dam also represents a triumph for conservation groups, outdoor enthusiasts and, perhaps most importantly, tribal groups, who have a long and tangled history tied to the forests and mountains of the far north. of California and rural southern Oregon.

Pools of water behind Copco Dams on the Klamath River in Siskiyou County as seen in May.

Santiago Mejia, Personal / The Chronicle

It’s not just about removing dams from the river, they’re being removed from our culture and our way of life, said Frankie Myers, vice president of the Yurok Tribe, which has a reservation in Humboldt Counties. and Del Norte where the Klamath flows to the Pacific. These dams are dark clouds hanging over our river and our people for 100 years.

The Yurok Tribe is one of the affiliates of Klamath River Renewal Corp., a non-profit cooperative created to take control of power company PacifiCorp facilities and manage the demolition of the dam. The power company, a subsidiary of Warren Buffetts Berkshire Hathaway Energy, decided the dams were too expensive to operate.

Because the dismantling of facilities involves hydroelectric infrastructure, FERC was at the center of the campaign. Thursday’s decision by the agency approving the license surrender order for the power project is FERC’s most decisive to date in a series of administrative actions. The approval essentially terminates energy operations.

This project won’t happen unless FERC issues a surrender order, said Mark Bransom, chief executive of Klamath River Renewal Corp., which represents California and Oregon, tribal nations, water users water, fishing groups and conservation organizations. This is an important milestone for the project and for the parties that have been working on it for the past few decades.

While FERC is normally concerned with promoting power generation, not decommissioning it, the agencies’ move on the Klamath comes on the heels of a push from an unlikely coalition of groups who advocated for the dam’s removal and found the money to finance it.

PacificCorp is contributing $200 million to the effort, with the agreement that it can offload aging facilities without liability. California voter-approved water bonds cover the rest.

We have to understand that this doesn’t happen every day, FERC Chairman Richard Glick said during Thursday’s commission meeting in Washington, DC. This order took a long time to come.

The Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River in Siskiyou County is one of four dams on the river scheduled for removal.

Santiago Mejia, Personal / The Chronicle

The dams no longer produce electricity. Nor are they, nor the reservoirs above them, used for irrigation, municipal water supply, or flood control.

A handful of clearances and permits still need to be granted before dam removal can begin, but they are mostly procedural.

With Thursday’s decision, the project remains on track to remove the smallest of California’s three dams, the 33-foot-tall Copco No. 2 dam, as early as next summer, Bransom said. The 173-foot Iron Gate Dam and the 126-foot Copco No. 1 Dam as well as Oregon’s JC Boyle Dam will be razed next year.

The JC Boyle Dam near Klamath Falls, Oregon, shown in 2003, is part of the PacifiCorps hydroelectric project on the Klamath River. It is one of four dams scheduled to be removed.


Today’s action culminates more than a decade of work to revitalize the Klamath River and its vital role in the tribal communities, cultures and livelihoods it supports, Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement. communicated. California is grateful for the partnership of Oregon, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, Berkshire Hathaway, and the many other stakeholders who have come together to make this transformational effort a reality for generations to come.

The deconstruction of the dam will be followed by a massive seeding and planting effort involving 97 species of native trees, brush and grasses, all of which once defined the landscape carved by the river.

These are the actions we need to take to get back on track, said Myers, along with the Yurok Tribe. Undo those things that we knew were wrong. We can undo them. We can choose a different path.

Kurtis Alexander is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @kurtisalexander




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