Federal regulators give a boost to a plan to destroy Klamath dams in California, to save salmon

A proposal to protect migratory salmon from being destroyed by four hydroelectric dams along California’s Klamath River received backing Friday’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

FERC has released the final environmental impact statement evaluating dam demolition plans. The plan will be implemented by FERC commissioners later in the year.

The dam’s operators filed an application to surrender the Lower Klamath Hydroelectric Project on Nov. 17, 2020. It is located on 400 acres federal land in Oregon, California and includes the Copco 1, Copco 2 and Iron Gate Dams.

“The staff of the Commission recommends that the license be surrendered, decommissioned and removed from the project,” reads the abstract of an environmental impact statement.

These dams were licensed originally by FERC under 1954; the new guidelines in 2007 would force PacifiCorp, dam operator to provide fish passages in order for them to relicense their dam.

“PacifiCorp concluded that implementing these conditions would result in operating the project at a loss,” prompting FERC to grant the surrender request.

The hydroelectric dam cut half the river, while low flows and high temperatures caused the river to shrink.

“Coho salmon from the river are listed as threatened under federal and California law, and their population has fallen by anywhere from 52% to 95%. Spring chinook salmon, once the Klamath Basin’s largest run, have dwindled by 98%,” according to the Associated Press.

The FERC report notes that dam demolition has permanent economic benefits.

“Restoration and removal of dams would have positive effects on the income from subsistence fishing and commercial fishing as well as riverine recreation and tourism.” The environmental impact statement states.

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The operator of Pacificorp’s dam is not opposed to the idea. However, retrofitting the dams’ aging infrastructure in California or federally-required environmental regulations would probably cost more than what the dams generate in energy profit.

“PacifiCorp will likely need to invest hundreds of millions in retrofitting the structures to meet today’s environmental regulations. According to the AP, “The utility said that the electricity from the dams does not make up a substantial part of its power portfolio.”

Local Tribes applaud the FERC report, whose culture places importance on rivers and salmon runs.

“We can see the light at the end of the dam removal tunnel,” Karuk tribal chairman Russell Attebery said in a statement released jointly with the Yurok tribe.

Nonprofits praised the environment impact statement.

“Dam Removal is essential for revitalizing and restoring the Klamath Basin. “It’s the most important thing we can to restore Klamath fishing, boost local economies and improve water quality,” Brian Johnson, of Trout Unlimited, stated in the Yurok Karuk statement.

Amy Cordalis, a member of the Ridges to Riffles Conservation Fund and a Yurok tribe fisherwoman and tribal member, stated in the statement, “This crucial regulatory step is essential for the United States to fulfill its legal obligations, uphold its trust obligation to Klamath River Tribes .”

The dam removal would occur on the Klamath River’s main “stem”, and salmon recovery would depend on riverine tributaries that are healthy.

” Even with the dam being removed from the Klamath’s main stem, there is still a need for healthy tributaries. But relief is on the way for these fish,” said Craig Tucker, natural resources consultant for the Karuk tribe, according to Courthouse News.

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