Dams on the Way Out on Two California Rivers

The largest dam removal project in U.S. history is about to commence on the Klamath River. Due to a recent development, a dam on the Eel River is also on expected for decommission.

2 minute read

May 25, 2022, 12:00 PM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Klamath River

The mouth of the Klamath River, where it meets the Pacific Ocean in Del Norte County, California. | Jairo Rene Leiva / Shutterstock

Kurtis Alexander reports for the San Francisco Chronicle on the status of a controversial dam removal project that is been in the works for years—the plan to remove four dams along the Klamath River where it crosses from Oregon to California. When the dam removals are complete, the Iron Gate Dam, J.C. Boyle Dam, and Copco dams #1 and #2 will be history. The larger project is the largest dam removal project in U.S. history.

“The first of four aging dams on the Klamath River, the 250-mile waterway that originates in southern Oregon’s towering Cascades and empties along the rugged Northern California coast, is on track to come down in fall 2023. Two others nearby and one across the state line will follow,” according to Alexander.

“The nearly half-billion dollars needed for the joint state, tribal and corporate undertaking has been secured. The demolition plans are drafted. The contractor is in place. Final approval could come by December.”

Final steps before the dam removal commences include additional study on the expected impact of the dam removal for the pants and animals of the Klamath Basin. Mike Belchik, senior fisheries biologist for the Yurok Tribe, is quoted in the article saying the project is, at its heart, a fish-restoration project.

On the Eel River, located south of the Klamath in California, crossing Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, PG&E let their license expire for the Potter Valley Project (PVP)—two dams, a diversion tunnel, and a powerhouse.

The 99-year-old Scott Dam was built to provide hydroelectric power for the city of Ukiah. “When old dams come due for relicensing, they are required to meet 21st century standards for fish passage. Upgrading these ancient structures comes with enormous cost, so much so that it is often cheaper to just remove the dams entirely,” according to an article on Active NorCal. “Before the dam was installed, the Eel hosted some of the most dramatic salmon and steelhead runs in California.”

When the Eel River dams are removed, the river will be the longest free-flowing river in the entire state, according to the article.  

The 21st Century Dams Act, introduced in July 2021 in the House of Representatives but held up in committee, would spend $26 billion to repair dams for improved energy production and safety while also planning to restore 10,000 miles of river with the removal of 1,000 dams. If approved, the bill would build momentum for a dam removal trend underway in the United States for the past two decades.

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