US' Largest-Ever Dam Removal Approved in the Name of Fish

Four dams to be removed from Klamath River on Oregon-California border by 2024
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 18, 2022 11:53 AM CST
US' Largest-Ever Dam Removal Approved in the Name of Fish
The Iron Gate Dam, powerhouse and spillway is seen on the lower Klamath River near Hornbrook, Calif, on March 3, 2020.   (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus, File)

Federal regulators have given final approval for the largest dam removal project in US history at a cost of $500 million—for the purpose of helping endangered fish. For decades, Native American tribes have sought to restore the Klamath River, the route to spawning grounds for Chinook and endangered coho salmon, to its condition before the installation of hydroelectric dams. They'll finally get their wish as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday gave final approval to plans to demolish four aging dams that dot the river, "allowing hundreds of miles of native fish habitat along the California-Oregon border to flow freely for the first time in more than a century," per the Los Angeles Times.

"The Klamath salmon are coming home," Yurok Tribe Chairman Joseph James says in a statement, adding "the people have earned this victory and with it, we carry on our sacred duty to the fish that have sustained our people since the beginning of time." Commercial fishing and environmental groups also applauded the decision. As FERC Chairman Richard Glick notes, "some of these projects have a significant impact on the environment and a significant impact on fish and other wildlife." The Times puts it more bluntly: "Salmon populations in the once-teeming Klamath Basin have dwindled to almost nothing in large part because of the dam-blocked habitat." Climate change and drought have also played roles, per Reuters.

Instructed to add pricey fish screens and ladders to the dams on federal land, power utility PacifiCorp chose instead to work with the tribes and government on the decommissioning. The company will provide $200 million in funding from surcharges on customers in the two states. California will pony up another $250 million, as approved by voters. All four dams are to be removed by the end of 2024. They currently provide about 2% of PacifiCorp's energy generation, which a rep says can be fairly easily replaced "through renewables and other sources," per the Times. (Read more dams stories.)

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