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Environment, Energy and Transportation

Public comment opens on Klamath dam removal plan

PacifiCorp's Copco 1 dam on the lower Klamath River is one of four hydro dams that would be removed to facilitate fish passage.
Amelia Templeton
/
OPB
PacifiCorp's Copco 2 dam on the lower Klamath River is one of four hydro dams that would be removed to facilitate fish passage.

Dam removal on the Klamath River is one step closer to reality. A draft environmental impact statement was released on Friday by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It’s an opportunity to get feedback on the dam removal plan along the Oregon-California border.

The overall Klamath Dam removal project would be the largest dam removal effort in U.S. history. It comprises four aging dams – J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, and Iron Gate – which are owned by the utility PacifiCorp in Klamath County, Oregon and Siskiyou County, California.

The draft EIS comment period runs until April 18. It will allow the public to correct any errors in the current removal plan, according to Glen Spain with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations.

“The realities don’t change. The dams are not going to be cost-effective. They do an enormous amount of damage to the river. The company doesn’t want them. The company doesn’t need them,” Spain says.

Neither the members of the Klamath County board of commissioners or the Siskiyou County board of supervisors responded to a request for comment.

Decommissioning and removal would open up 400 miles of creeks and tributaries that are important for coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. Stagnant, warm water from the dams has resulted in as many as 90% of the river’s juvenile Chinook salmon to be infected by a lethal parasite called C. shasta in recent years.

“These are very old structures, very far from modern design,” Spain says. “They also were built without fish passage, which is illegal under today’s laws. And they produce only a very small amount of energy.”

Dam removal would be carried out by the Klamath River Renewal Corporation. Spain, who also serves on the group’s board, says they hope to begin drawing down reservoirs in Jan. 2023. The KRRC would then be responsible for removing the dams and associated facilities, restore the land occupied by the dams, and improve fish passage. The initial removal plan is expected to take 20 months, followed by five years of restoration.