The Klamath River flows from Klamath Lake in Oregon over 250 miles down to the Pacific Ocean on Northern California’s coast that many call “the spit.” The river is best known for its salmon and steelhead runs.

Klamath river king, photo by Kenny Priest

PacifiCorp owns four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, and we know from experience that spawning fish and dams don’t coexist well. The condition of the river since the installation of these dams(from 1908 to 1962) has only gone downhill, evident by the diminishing fish runs and decreasing water quality.

The Klamath River Renewal Corporation(KRRC) is in an agreement to take ownership of PacifiCorp’s four Klamath dams, but they won’t stop there. They have plans set to remove these four furthest downstream dams and restore the river area. This will provide more river for steelhead and salmon to spawn in. This is the “largest dam removal and salmon restoration effort in U.S history,” according to the KRRC.

Plan Released for Klamath River Dam Removal | American Rivers
J.C Boyle dam, photo courtesy of American Rivers

The organization recognizes that this restoration won’t make any instantaneous improvement but is a necessary step in reversing the path that Klamath salmon are currently on: extinction.

The removal will be a potentially expensive one for PacifiCorp, but they have agreed to make a donation of sorts in order to remove any liability or unexpected costs for them. Their “donation” was contributing 250 million dollars to the dam removal.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the hydroelectric license transfer from PacifiCorp to KRRC, under the conflicting condition that PacifiCorp remain a co-licensee throughout the removal process.

FERC’s decision could sink the entire deal, which would be devastating for Klamath salmon, the Native American tribes that depend on the seasonal fish runs as a food source, and the sportsman who depend on these fish to make a living.

To save Klamath River salmon, shut down the hatcheries - Los Angeles Times
View from the top, Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times

The good news is that tribes and environmentalists continue to stay positive about the outcome of this deal. They believe it’s probable that KRRC will carry out the entire removal and restoration without PacifiCorp’s involvement.

Only time will tell if PacifiCorp and KRRC’s agreement will hold true. With luck, the Klamath will have four less dams by fall of 2021 and salmon will have a huge increase in spawning grounds. This dam removal and restoration effort is ambitious but realistic, and will give us a better chance at recovering the populations of anadromous fish on the Klamath River.

Find out how you can help in the effort to #undamtheklamath at this link.

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing