Federal Regulators Approve Removal of Four Klamath River Dams!

Published 11/17/2022  |  American Whitewater

Today, federal regulators unanimously approved the removal of four outdated hydropower dams on the Klamath River (OR/CA), an action that will set free one of the most iconic whitewater rivers on the West Coast with the largest dam removal project in history.

After a six year process and two decades of advocacy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissionapproved the surrender of the federal license for the Lower Klamath Hydroelectric Project. Now, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, a non-profit created to oversee dam removal, and the states of Oregon and California will take control of the dams from the utility, PacifiCorp, and start the dam removal process. Preparation work will begin at the dams in early 2023. The smallest dam, Copco 2, will be removed first and the other three will be removed simultaneously in 2024. Long-term restoration work will continue for several more years.

Today’s victory on dam removal is the culmination of two decades of effort led by Native American Tribes, conservation groups, commercial fishing groups, water users, community members, and PacifiCorp. The dams have blocked salmon from the upper half of the Klamath’s vast watershed for over 100 years and have impacted water quality on over 200 miles of river, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Removal of the dams is essential to restoring the river’s health, improving its ailing fishery, and addressing the injustices that the dams have caused the people of multiple Tribes that depend upon a healthy river and its fisheries for their sustenance and cultural identity.

In setting the Klamath free, the 41-mile-long whitewater reach that spans the four dams will be transformed as flooded sections emerge from reservoirs and dewatered sections flow once again. The undammed river’s flow will vary with natural cycles and will have both seasonal and year-round boating opportunities ranging from class II to IV+. Without dams, it will be possible to boat 250 continuous miles on the Klamath–all the way to the ocean–making it one of the longer multi-day river trips in the country.

“The removal of these dams begins the Klamath’s recovery from a century of dam-related impacts,” said American Whitewater’s Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director Thomas O’Keefe. “We look forward to the many ways that people will experience the renewed Klamath, including the new whitewater runs that will emerge when the dams come down. We are pleased that the Commission recognized the many benefits of dam removal and, specifically, the benefits to river recreation.”

American Whitewater provided significant input during the development of an updated Recreation Facilities Management Plan to ensure these river recreation benefits will be realized. The Commission approved this plan in today’s license surrender order. We’re now working with the Klamath River Renewal Corporation to plan several new river access facilities and to address dam-related hazards in two sections of river that are currently dewatered but that will be excellent whitewater runs after the dams come out.

We’re also supporting Paddle Tribal Waters, a program that teaches Native youth to kayak and advocate for rivers, and is preparing them to undertake the first descent of the undammed Klamath, an honor that rightfully belongs to the first people of the river.

Today’s decision to authorize removal of the Klamath dams is monumental and historic. Twenty years ago, a group of indigenous activists met on a river bar near Orleans, California, and they knew that the Klamath dams had to come down for the river, its salmon, and their cultures to survive. We congratulate and commend them for their tenacity and hard work, against all odds, to un-dam the Klamath.

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