One dam due for removal this year, the other three in 2024
By Lee Juillerat for the Rogue Valley Times
The first step in the removal of four Klamath River dams is underway.
Deconstruction of Copco No. 2, the smallest of the four hydroelectric dams being removed from the Klamath River, started this week with the removal of gates, a walkway and two of the five bays down to the spillway.
“While this is just the first step, it certainly is an exciting moment,” said Mark Bransom, CEO of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, the organization overseeing the largest dam removal project in U.S. history, and restoration. “Crews are making fast progress in these early stages of the project, and we are on track with our removal timeline.”
Bransom said the work is being done to direct water around the dam, rather than over it, which will allow construction crews to do work through the summer. Crews placed about 10 feet of rock on either side of the dam in order to reach the gates and bays for deconstruction. He said much of the Copco No. 2 infrastructure remains in place below the rock surface.
Bransom said the deconstruction of Copco No. 2 will continue through the summer, with final decommissioning and complete removal expected sometime in September.
“We are pleased that we were able to make so much progress this week,” noted Dan Petersen, project manager for Kiewit, the company removing the dams. “But,” he cautioned, “removing Copco No. 2 is still not a done deal. We expect to officially wrap up this phase of the dam removal project sometime in September.”
The other three dams, Iron Gate, Copco No. 1, and JC Boyle are scheduled to be removed next year, beginning with the draw-down of the reservoirs in January 2024. Their incremental deconstruction will continue throughout the year, with construction activities expected to conclude sometime in late 2024.
Talks about removing the dams, which were previously owned by PacifiCorp, have been ongoing for decades. Proponents note the dams block more than 400 miles of historical fish habitat and spawning grounds.
Studies indicate Klamath River salmon populations have fallen precipitously in recent years, with coho salmon listed as threatened under federal and California law. Spring Chinook salmon, once the Klamath Basin’s dominant run, have decreased by about 98% and are almost extinct. Fall Chinook, even augmented by hatchery production, have declined so much that the Yurok Tribe suspended fishing for the first time in the tribe’s recorded history. In 2017, the tribe had to purchase fish at a grocery store to conduct its annual salmon festival.
According to Bransom and others, the dams negatively alter the natural riverine temperature, resulting in unnaturally warm water when adult fish return to spawn in late September and October, which results in increased adult stress and mortality. During the late spring, the dams cause reduced water temperatures that impede juvenile fish growth rates, leading to reduced survival. Temperature is important to fish, and the dams affect both adult fertility and juvenile survival.
The 50-year federal license that allowed PacifiCorp to operate four Klamath River dams expired in 2006. PacifiCorp entered into the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement with federal, state and local governments, two Tribal nations, and nine conservation and fishing groups. PacifiCorp concluded that surrendering the operating license and discontinuing operation of the dams, coupled with other terms of the KHSA, was in the best interests of their customers.
The Settlement Agreement was amended in April 2016 and required PacifiCorp and the KRRC to seek approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to transfer ownership of the four dams and related facilities to KRRC and decommission all four dams on the Klamath River.
KRRC took ownership of the project following acceptance by FERC in June 2021. As part of the terms of the November 2020 agreement, the states of Oregon and California are serving as co-licensees with KRRC.