Federal regulators gave the final green light Nov. 17 for the removal of the dams on the Lower Klamath River. Taking out the four large dams will free 420 miles of river that run between northern California and southern Oregon and provide sustenance to Tribal nations.
“Klamath River communities are celebrating up and down the river today,” said Craig Tucker, representing the Karuk Tribe. “The Klamath salmon are coming home!”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday specifically approved the transfer of the dam licenses from owner PacifiCorp to a private entity created to handle the biggest dam removal in the history of the U.S., the nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corp. California and Oregon are co-licensees and agreed to provide $500 million to cover any removal cost overruns.
“This is a historic day,” Commissioner Willie Phillips said on Thursday. He along with his fellow commissioners highlighted the multi stakeholder agreement to remove the dams that was in the works for many years involving Tribal governments and representatives from PacifiCorp, California, Oregon, agriculture and environmental organizations.
“Dam removal is the first step in the healing of the Klamath River and all Klamath Tribal communities,” said Amy Cordalis, Klamath River Renewal board member appointed by the Yurok Tribe.
FERC Chair Rich Glick said that taking out the four dams during the states’ and nations’ push to zero emissions energy may raise concerns but that the license surrender, decommissioning, and removal of the concrete dams “are in the public interest.” He pointed to the high concrete walls, which have caused long-time harm to water quality, salmon, steelhead and other fisheries that are critical to the Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa and other tribes near the river. These dams and many others, he added, were built with little attention to environmental harm and cultural impacts to Tribes. Relicensing them to meet current standards would be cost prohibitive, Glick added.
The 163 MW of the dams’ capacity have produced only about 60 MW of peaking power or 686,000 MWh annually because of requisite fishery and water quality protections, according to PacifiCorp Spokesperson Bob Gravely. He said the hydropower dams are less than 2% of the large company’s generation.
The decommissioning will start once the Klamath renewal corp and California and Oregon representatives review the terms of the license surrender and accept the June 2021 License Transfer Order. The parties expect to accept the transfer within 30 days.
Opponents of the removal have 30 days to seek a rehearing on the matter at FERC.
FERC staff recommended approval of the Environment Impact Statement for the dam removal by the nonprofit Klamath River Restoration Corp. in September.
The work on the teardown of the Lower Klamath River dams will include draining reservoirs and diverting the flow. A key requirement under the EIS is minimizing the amount of sediments released during the building of roads to accommodate the work and the bulldozing of the concrete structures to protect fish.
The dam removals are estimated to take 20 months and the restoration of the impacted areas up to five years. The work is expected to create jobs and boost tourism.