An Important Milestone on the Klamath – Removal of the Copco 2 Dam Complete!

Published 11/9/2023  |  American Whitewater

By Thomas O’Keefe

Crews spent October putting the final touches on the removal of the Copco No. 2 Dam on California’s Klamath River, removing the remaining diversion infrastructure, grading the river channel, and performing erosion control. Deconstruction of the dam structure was completed in September. This work prepares the river canyon for consistent river flows, something which the river canyon below the dam hasn’t seen in 98 years. Restored flows in this reach will provide new whitewater boating opportunities on a section of river that has been dewatered and inaccessible to the public. Only a handful of boaters have ever been able to experience this run.

Copco No. 2 was located right below the Copco No. 1 dam in a steep river canyon, commonly known as Wards Canyon. The canyon is named after Kitty Ward, a full-blooded Shasta woman who was one of the last members of her tribe to live in their ancestral homeland valley. She was forcibly removed from her home to allow the reservoir to be filled.Completed in 1925, Copco No. 2 was a diversion dam that funneled the river’s flows out of the canyon and into a tunnel system that sent the water to the Copco No. 2 powerhouse located downstream, essentially dewatering the 1.9-mile-long canyon. In 2020, American Whitewater completed an on-water whitewater flow study of this canyon at anticipated summer flows and found a high quality class IV whitewater boating reach in an incredibly scenic basalt river canyon.

Without the river’s presence in the canyon for the past century, many mature trees grew in the riverbed. When exposed to consistent river flows, these trees would have died off and jammed the channel, creating a significant hazard for river runners. American Whitewater secured the removal of these trees and restoration of the river channel as a part of the official dam removal project process. Nearly 1,000 trees were removed by helicopter in September in collaboration with area Tribes. Many of them will be used in the dam removal project’s restoration projects.

The Klamath’s remaining three hydropower dams, JC Boyle, Copco No. 1, and Iron Gate will be removed in 2024. In January, KRRC will begin drawdown, the slow draining of the reservoirs, which is expected to take 3-5 months, depending on the amount of water entering the system as a result of spring runoff. Once drawdown is complete, dam deconstruction and restoration work will begin in earnest. All three dams are expected to be completely removed by November 2024, and restoration activities will continue for years to come to ensure their success. We expect river runners will be able to experience the Klamath’s 41-mile-long stretch of restored river in 2025.

Images courtesy of Shane Anderson

This post originally appeared at americanwhitewater.org

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