California is about to begin the nation’s largest ever dam removal project along the Klamath River

By Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle, May 21, 2022

“After decades of negotiation, the largest dam-removal project in U.S. history is expected to begin in California’s far north next year.

“The nearly half-billion dollars needed for the joint state, tribal, and corporate undertaking has been secured. The demolition plans are drafted. The contractor is in place. Final approval could come by December.

“While the decision to remove [four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River between California and Oregon] was financial, it was urged — and enabled — by those hoping to see a revival of plants and animals in the Klamath Basin.

“ ‘At its heart, this is really a fish-restoration project,’ said Mike Belchik, senior fisheries biologist for the Yurok Tribe, which has long lamented the decline of salmon on its ancestral territory in the basin.

“At stake is nothing less than the future of the cherished chinook salmon run. The fish once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the Klamath River, making its migration the third-largest salmon run on the West Coast.

“While the four dams no longer generate significant power, according to [former owners] PacifiCorp, some residents along the California-Oregon border have opposed the demolition because of a reluctance to surrender any power source, the pending loss of waterfront property on the reservoirs, and less water available for fighting wildfires.

“The dams are not used for irrigation, municipal water, or flood control.

“The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has final say over the dam removal, released a draft environmental impact statement in February, suggesting that the benefits of the venture outweigh the concerns.

“[“Texas-based ecological restoration company Res, which has been contracted to help return the river to its natural state”] is planning to revegetate 2,200 acres of land that will resurface once the dams are torn down and the reservoirs are drained.

“The new terrain that will come with dam removal is expected to not only boost fish numbers, but also increase biodiversity. This can harden the fish to the challenges of drought, warming water temperatures, and other hardships likely to come with the changing climate.”

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