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As It Was: Copco Dams Provide Electricity for Klamath Growth

The first large hydroelectric facility on the Klamath River entered service 100 years ago, providing an abundant source of power for residents of Northern California and Southern Oregon.  The dam, known as Copco 1, generated 11 megawatts of electricity.

Some 400 workers spent several years constructing the dam and power plant for the California Oregon Power Co., known as Copco for short.  The new source of power was especially important to the fast-growing city of Klamath Falls, where lumber mills and other factories depended on smaller power plants on Link River and transmission lines crossing the mountains from the Rogue Valley.

Copco officials acknowledged that Copco 1 would present a permanent barrier to fish passage on one of the most important salmon-producing rivers on the West Coast, but said that would be mitigated by construction of a fish hatchery on nearby Fall Creek. 

Copco built three more large dams on the Klamath River before eventually being folded into the Pacific Power and Light Company, which continued to operate the dams for another half-century.

Present-day plans to restore fish runs call for removal of all four dams, starting as soon as the year 2020.

Sources: "Big Copco Plant Now Serving City." Evening Herald, 18 Jan. 1918 [Klamath Falls, Ore.] , p. 1. Accessed 18 Jan. 2018; Boyle, J. C. 50 Years on the Klamath. Klamath Falls, Klamath County Museum, 1976, pp. 10-15; “Two New Klamath Basin Agreements Carve out Path for Dam Removal and Provide Key Benefits to Irrigators,” U.S. Department of the Interior news release, April 6, 2016.

Todd Kepple has been a Klamath Basin resident since 1990. He was a reporter and editor the for the Herald and News from 1990 to 2005, and has been manager of the Klamath County Museum since 2005. He enjoys volunteering at Crater Lake National Park, the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also a founding member of the Klamath Tree League.