Removal of four PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River expected to start in early 2023

If all goes according to plan, the removal of four PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River that have blocked the migration of salmon and rainbow trout for more than 100 years will begin in early 2023, according to the executive director of the Klamath River. Renewal Corporation (KRRC), Mark Bransom.

By Dan Bacher

Branson spoke at a press briefing Friday also attended by Amy Cordallis, Yurok Tribe Lawyer, Brian Johnson, Director of Trout Unlimited CA, Craig Tucker, Karuk Tribe Natural Resource Policy Consultant, Kelly Delpit, Responsible for the Sustainable Northwest Klamath Basin and the Director of PCFFA Northwest, Glen Spain. Tucker moderated the event.

KRRC’s job is to take ownership of four PacifiCorp dams – JC Boyle, Copco No.1 and No.2, and Iron Gate – then remove those dams, restore the once flooded land, and implement the measures. mitigation required in accordance with all applicable federal laws, state and local regulations. PacifiCorp will continue to operate the dams in the interim, according to reconnectklamath.org.

Removing the dams will open more than 400 miles of the river and tributaries to spawning and farming chinook, coho and rainbow trout – and improve water quality and conditions temperature of the river.

“We are on the cusp of a number of important and significant additional steps that will ultimately lead, in our view, to the removal of the dam,” Bransom said. “Conditions in the basin have been extraordinarily difficult, but we plan to put significant effort into lowering the reservoirs by 2023. By the end of spring 2023 at the latest, construction will begin 6-7 months to complete. position for the removal of dams. The company is doing everything to complete the process.

Implementing the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) under which the dams are removed has been a “long and bureaucratically complex process,” according to Craig Tucker. Recently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) filed a “Notice of Preparation for Environmental Review” for the project.

This review process is now underway, with FERC’s draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), due for release by February 2023.

Trout Unlimited CA Director Brian Johnson, who was a key negotiator in the settlement talks, said the process of removing the dam “opens up a lot of possibilities in the basin.”

He made several remarks to correct some myths about the process of removing the dam:

• Dams are not used for irrigation or municipal water supply.

• The Klamath River will not dry up in the summer, as there is already a water reservoir in Upper Klamath Lake. Dams are only used for hydropower – not for irrigation or water storage like other reservoirs.

• Since the dams were not designed to control flooding, there will be no significant loss of flood safety for residents living along the river. “The current dams would be full long before they could help control downstream flooding,” he said.

• The sediments behind the dams are not toxic and have been extensively sampled.

He stressed that there would be “short-term impacts during construction,” but based on other dam removal projects in the country, he predicted the sediment would clear quickly.

Finally, he noted that some conspiracy theories were circulating, claiming that the salmon had never passed the four PacifiCorp dams – that there were lava flows blocking the passage of the fish.

He replied that the lava flows filled the river with water – several hundred thousand years ago – but that natural erosion destroyed these barriers several tens of thousands of years ago. He also said there had been carbon dating of salmon bones on the river in tribal fish camps high above dams that confirm migration of salmon and rainbow trout in the Klamath and the tributaries above the dams thousands of years before they were built just over 100 years. since.

Kelly Delpit, a Klamath Basin farmer who represents Sustainable Northwest, also pointed out that PacifiCorp’s four reservoirs do not provide water for irrigation.

“In short, what’s good for fish is good for farms. Removing the dams will benefit fish, people and agriculture. The removal of the dam is a big step towards restoring the balance of the Klamath basin, ”she said.

Amy Cordalis, a lawyer from the Yurok tribe, who introduced herself in the Yurok language, said she came from a traditional fishing family in the village of Requa at the mouth of the Klamath River.

She stressed the urgency of removing the dam at this time. “The Klamath River was once the third largest producer of salmon in the continental United States, but now it only accounts for 1 to 3 percent of historical runs,” Cordalis said. “The removal and restoration of dams is vital for the entire river. When we talk about the health of the river, we are talking about the health of the entire ecosystem. At the same time, we have experienced a historic drought that puts additional pressure on the river. “

“During this drought, 80 to 90 percent of baby salmon have been killed in the past 4 years by the C. Shasta parasitic in bad river conditions caused by dams, ”she said. “There are also blooms of blue-green algae in the summer where people cannot enter the water because it is harmful to their health.”

“The Klamath River has been operated at minimal flows for the past 1 1/2 years. It’s like keeping the river on life support. We cannot continue to operate this way, ”she said.

“I want to get the river back from my great-grandmother,” Cordalis said. “She was born before the dams. She and other ancestors had a clean, healthy river that supported themselves and their families. This is how the Yurok people have existed since the dawn of time.

She noted that the Yurok have benefited from the resources of the Klamath River for thousands of years.

“At Yurok, we don’t use the term sustainable but balanced,” she added. “We are now in this location because the river is very out of balance due to colonization, but we are working with allies and partners to restore balance to the river. The removal of the dam is essential; it can’t come soon enough. We are calling for the dam to be removed in 2023. “

Glen Spain, Northwestern Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), highlighted how the continued management of the Klamath under the management of weaker stocks is wreaking havoc on commercial fishing families and recreation areas from Oregon and Washington to Monterey.

“When the salmon leave the Klamath River, they head north and south,” he said. “The Monterey salmon fishery on the Oregon-Washington border is now managed by managing the weakest stocks. There are not enough Klamath fish in the ocean and the fish are now suffering from a glove of disease as they move down the river. What happens in dams and rivers affects people hundreds of kilometers along the coast. “

“We (the commercial fishermen) are the same people as the farmers – the food providers – and we have a lot in common,” he said.

In response to my question on how Iron Gate Hatchery operations will be affected by the dam removal process, Mark Branson said they will make sure to implement a transition plan from the dam. hatchery before the lakes are drawn before the removal of the dam.

Under the KHSA, there will be temporary hatchery facilities at the Fall Creek Hatchery and elsewhere. To meet fish mitigation goals, PacifiCorp has already agreed to pay for fish hatchery operations at Fall Creek, which is state-owned by the state of California, for up to 8 years after the dam is removed.

Spain stressed that there will be sediment runoff on the river for a few years after the removal of the four dams. But he noted that hydrologists estimate that the fine sediment released by the removal of the dam would flow into the sea within one or two winters, through the normal process of erosion.

“We also expect the dam removal to take place during the wettest part of the season in February and January. Fish are usually not around this time of year. We are doing everything to mitigate the impacts on the fish… fish biologists predict that the fish will recolonize the river when the dams are removed, ”Spain said.

Cordalis added that the Yurok tribe is the biggest salmon fisherman in the Klamath River today.

“The tribe operates a commercial fishery, as well as ritual and subsistence fishing. The tribe has the second highest number of fisheries biologists (next to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife) in the state, ”she said.

“We manage our fishery in terms of restoration and our own harvest with the goal of restoring wild salmon runs. We have evolved with them over a long period. We often joke that fish have our DNA and we have their DNA, ”Cordalis concluded.

The Klamath River dam removal project is the largest of its kind in the country. When complete, salmon and rainbow trout will once again be able to spawn in the headwaters of the Klamath where they spawned for thousands of years before the dams were built and fish, tribes and farmers. , commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen and communities up and down the Klamath Basin will all benefit, supporters of the dam removal say.

Visit reconnectklamath.org to learn more about the process. You can also find the latest information on dam removal on the KRRC website at www.klamathrestoration.org.


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