The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a final licensing order on Thursday, Nov. 17, that allows for the controversial removal of four hydroelectric dams from the Klamath River in Northern California and Southern Oregon by 2024.
The decision clears the final hurdle for the Klamath River Renewal Corp., which has been pushing removal of the dams for more than a decade to help endangered fish, to team with California and Oregon in accepting transfer of the project license from energy company PacifiCorp and start the dam removal process early next year.
“The Klamath salmon are coming home,” Yurok Tribe Chairman Joseph James said in a release sent to media. “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.”
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Proponents claim the dam removals will be the largest river restoration project in U.S. history, opening up hundreds of miles of habitat for a salmon fishery that has been in decline.
Removal of the dams has been under discussion among local, state and federal agencies for more than a decade and generated controversy among growers in the Klamath Basin, which straddles the California-Oregon state line. Though the dams don't provide water for irrigation, some growers and political leaders fear the dams' removal will drive up energy costs and perhaps lead to reductions in water for farms.
Often below capacity
The dams produce less than 2% of PacifiCorp’s power generation — enough to power about 70,000 homes — when they are running at full capacity, utility spokesman Bob Gravely told The Associated Press. But they often run at a far lower capacity because of low water in the river and other issues, and the agreement that paved the way for Thursday’s vote was ultimately a business decision, he told the wire service.
The decommissioning effort includes restoration of 8,000 acres currently inundated by the hydroelectric dams, which were built between 1918 and 1962, Oregon State University explains. OSU researchers last summer launched a 3½-year partnership with the Yurok Tribe to study what the connections between river quality, water use and the aquatic food web will look like after the four dams are dismantled.
Related: Tribe, OSU plan for Klamath dam removal
The joint project is the first attempt to represent tribal knowledge in decision processes in the Klamath Basin, according to the university.
The KRRC is a private entity created by state and federal authorities and PacifiCorp to assume ownership of the dams and restore the river's natural flows to aid downstream fisheries. Proponents went through the FERC process after failng to move dam-removal authorization through Congress by a 2015 deadline.
The dams set for renewal are the Iron Gate Dam and Copco dams No. 1 and No. 2 in California's Siskiyou County and the John C. Boyle Dam near Klamath Falls, Ore.