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  • Writer's pictureWoody

It’s Official: Klamath Dams are Coming Down

The Klamath River flows 257 miles through Oregon and northern California in the United States, emptying into the Pacific Ocean. By average discharge, the Klamath is the second largest river in California after the Sacramento River.

On November 17, FERC ordered PacifiCorp to surrender the dam license, the final hurdle after 20 years of studies and advocacy.

Dam removals could begin as early as 2023 if all goes smoothly, but a more likely scenario is 2024. The aging dams near the Oregon-California border were built before current environmental regulations and essentially cut the 253-mile-long river in half for migrating salmon, whose numbers have plummeted

After a grueling 20 years of environmental impact statements, scientific studies, negotiations with stakeholders and advocacy from the tribes and their conservationist allies the vote is the final green light everyone’s been waiting for. With FERC’s laborious approval process now concluded, dam removal can begin, launching what is expected to be the biggest river restoration project in U.S. history.

What FERC’s approval means

Klamath river salmon have continually faced life-threatening challenges, including the 2002 fish kill that triggered the removal campaign, a 2021 disease outbreak that killed 70% of juvenile salmon in the river, and a 2022 combination of wildfire, thunderstorms and landslides that suffocated a 50-mile stretch of river, killing virtually everything in it. All along, dams have exacerbated disasters by escalating water warming, algal blooms and stagnation, helping to spread disease and depriving the lower basin of sediment and cool, fresh water from the upper tributaries.

Which Dams are Being Removed?

The Copco No. 2 dam will be removed as soon as the summer of 2023 under the approved plan, with removal of J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1 and Iron Gate dams planned during 2024.

Copco No. 2 will be removed first. Deconstruction of the remaining three dams would occur essentially at the same time. Iron Gate Dam will be the last one to be fully removed due to the size of the dam and amount of material that must be removed.

How will the earth and concrete by disposed?

In all cases, the majority of the excavated material will be placed on PacifiCorp land. At Iron Gate Dam, much of the earthen material will be placed where the material was first excavated to build the dam. Much of the material at JC Boyle Dam will be used to fill a gigantic scour hole; which is an unnatural, unsightly and even dangerous feature of the JC Boyle part of the project. Some earth will be deposited on the slopes of the JC Boyle reservoir footprint. All the reservoirs will be extensively revegetated. Material that is not suitable for fill will go to various land fill sites where tipping fees will be paid on waste material.

The Flow of the Klamath River

The Klamath River issues from Klamath Lake at Klamath Falls as a short 1-mile stream known as the Link River, which flows into the 18-mile long Lake Ewauna reservoir formed by Keno Dam. Here, the Klamath is connected by the B canal to the Lost River; as part of the federal Klamath irrigation project, the canal is capable of diverting water between the rivers in either direction as needed.

Below the dam the river flows west, passing the mostly dry Lower Klamath Lake bed and the hydroelectric John C. Boyle Dam. The Klamath River then enters California, where it passes through three more hydroelectric plants and turns south near the town of Hornbrook towards Mount Shasta. However, the river soon swings west to receive the Shasta River and the Scott River, entering a long canyon through the Klamath Mountains.

The route through the Cascade Range and the Klamath Mountains constitutes the majority of the river's course and takes it from the arid high desert climate of its upper watershed towards a temperate rain forest nourished by Pacific rains. Below the Scott River confluence, the Klamath runs generally west along the south side of the Siskiyou Mountains until it takes a sharp southward turn near the town of Happy Camp. From there, it flows southwest over whitewater rapids through the Klamath National Forest and Six Rivers National Forest, receives the Salmon River from the east, and passes the community of Orleans. At Weitchpec, the river reaches the southernmost point in its course and veers sharply north as it receives its principal tributary, the Trinity River. Below this point, the Klamath's current slows as it approaches sea level. For the remainder of its course, the Klamath flows generally northwest, passing through the Yurok Indian Reservation and the town of Klamath (where it is bridged by Highway 101), and meeting the sea at a large tidal estuary 16 miles south of Crescent City. The mouth of the Klamath River is at Requa, in an area shared by the Yurok Reservation and Redwood National Park. The Klamath River estuary is recognized for protection by the California Bays and Estuaries Policy.

Overview of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project Dams

Copco No. 2

J.C. Boyle

Copco No. 1

Iron Gate


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