Largest Dam Removal in U.S. History Clears Final Regulatory Hurdle

Four dams are coming down along the Klamath River. The final decision to remove the dams is a milestone political and legal victory for indigenous tribes living in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

2 minute read

November 20, 2022, 7:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

A small dam located in a rural location.

The human interventions along the Klamath River have prevented salmon and other fish from flourishing. | davidrh / Shutterstock

The largest dam removal project in U.S. history has cleared its final hurdle on the Klamath River in Oregon and California. The Iron Gate Dam, J.C. Boyle Dam, and Copco dams #1 and #2 will soon be history.

“The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted Thursday to allow the license of four dams on the Klamath River to lapse,” reports Kurtis Alexander for the San Francisco Chronicle [paywall] to report the historic news.

“The vote by federal regulators opens the door for the first of the four hydroelectric dams to come down next year in what has been a two-decade effort to liberate the once mighty river that spans southern Oregon and Northern California,” adds Alexander.

Additional coverage of the news is available from the Associated Press and High County News.

“After a grueling 20 years of environmental impact statements, scientific studies, negotiations with stakeholders and advocacy from the tribes and their conservationist allies — people who, as Hoopa Valley Tribe Chairman Joe Davis said, ‘poured their blood, sweat and tears into making this happen’ — the vote is the final green light everyone’s been waiting for. With FERC’s laborious approval process now concluded, dam removal can begin, launching what is expected to be the biggest river restoration project in U.S. history,” reports B. ‘Toastie’ Oaster for High Country News.

Oaster provides additional about the remaining steps in the dam removal process: “The next legal steps are largely technical. As a result of the vote, FERC is ordering the surrender of the Lower Klamath Project License, which is currently held by energy company PacifiCorp. That license will be transferred to the entities in charge of dam removal: the states of Oregon and California, and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, a nonprofit created to oversee dam removal that is made up of tribal, state and conservation group representatives.”

As noted by Oaster, the stage for FERC’s historic vote was set by FERC’s August release of a final environmental impact statement.

Planetizen has been covering the Klamath River dam saga since 2007, with updates oscillating between progress and setbacks for the dam removal in 2008, 2016 (and 2016 again), 2018, and 2022. The Klamath River made national news in 2002 when a fish kill left 34,000 dead salmon lining the banks of the river.

More details on what’s next in the dam removal process are included at the link below.

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