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Feds Give Preliminary Nod To Klamath Dam Removal

Amelia Templeton/EarthFix

Federal energy regulators have approved a key step in the long road toward removing four hydroelectric dams on the lower Klamath River to help threatened salmon.

The dams are owned by the Portland-based utility Pacificorp. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has agreed to transfer the license for operating the four dams to a partnership of the states of California and Oregon and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, a non-profit formed specifically to remove the dams.

The group’s Dave Meurer says even though this decision is a step short of final approval for the project, this decision bodes well.

"FERC is very, very aware that the only reason we want to receive the license for this project, is that we intend to intend to decommission the project," he said. "The sole purpose for approving this transfer is for the purpose of decommissioning.”

The dams, the oldest of which has stood for over 100 years, block salmon migration and contribute to poor water quality in the lower Klamath River, which triggers seasonal fish kills that are threatening salmon stocks.

Craig Tucker, with the Karuk tribe in California, says this year's catastrophic fish kill highlights the need for dam removal.

"The majority of juvenile salmon are not making it out this year because of diseases," he says. "The water quality conditions are horrible.”

Removal of the dams has been opposed by public officials in Klamath and Siskiyou Counties, as well as local state legislators. They say removing the dams will cause environmental damage by releasing toxic sediments and will mean the loss of clean power generation.

Opponents also object to the deal struck by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and California Gov. Gavin Newsom that has the two states promising to back up the Klamath River Renewal Corporation in the case of cost overruns.

But Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, an architect of an earlier agreement that included Klamath River dam removal but failed to pass Congress, said he was pleased with today's development.

“The FERC decision today respects PacifiCorp’s business decision to transfer its license for the four aging Klamath River dams. These dams are not operated for flood control and provide no irrigation benefits. This is a critical step in restoring an iconic river system in a way that improves and reconnects habitat for fish and wildlife, acknowledges Tribal treaty obligations, protects power customers, and relieves pressure on upstream farmers and ranchers.”

The project still needs approval of its environmental review. Public hearings to gather input on the scope of the environmental assessment for the dam removal project are expected this summer.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.