A plan to demolish four of the largest dams and restore river habitat in California could become a reality as U.S. regulators vote to approve it. This plan would allow for hundreds of miles of river habitat to be opened to endangered salmon.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s vote on the Klamath River dams will be the final regulatory hurdle. It is also the most significant milestone in the face of a proposed demolition cost of $500 million, which has been supported by environmentalists and Native American tribes for many years.
The approval of the application to forfeit the dams’ operating licence is the foundation of the most ambitious salmon rehabilitation plan in history. If approved, the parties involved in the project will accept license transfer. Dam removal could start as soon as this summer. Amy Souers Kober spokeswoman for American Rivers. She said that more than 300 miles worth of salmon habitat would be saved in the Klamath River, and its tributaries.
She said, “This is an extremely important milestone.” “This project really has important lessons for rivers, the conservation movement and the most important lesson is that of the leadership of tribes. These dams will be built and the river will be restored because of the leadership of the tribes.
Tom Kiernan (president of American Rivers) said that the vote is coming at a crucial moment in which human-caused climate changes are hammering the Western United States. He suggested that allowing California’s second largest river to flow naturally and its floodplains and wetlands to operate normally would help mitigate these impacts.
He stated that the best way to manage increasing floods or droughts is to let the river system be healthy and do its job.
“It’s better to let the river flow than have reservoirs that evaporate a lot of water. The flood plains and wetlands will filter the water and bring it down into groundwater, where it won’t evaporate.”
The Klamath Basin watershed spans more than 14500 miles. The Klamath was once the third largest salmon-producing river on the West Coast. The dams were built between 1918 and 1962 and cut the river in half, stopping salmon from reaching their spawning grounds downstream. The result has been that salmon runs have been declining for many years.
The dams were brought down by Native tribes who depend on the Klamath River for their livelihood. Hoopa, Yurok and Karuk tribe members plan to light a bonfire to watch the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission meeting on Thursday at a remote Klamath River sandbar via a satellite link to symbolise their hopes for the river’s renewal.
The Yurok vice chair Frankie Myers told The Associated Press that he was both excited and anxious about the outcome.
He said, “We’ve been doing it for a long time and have been let down so many times over the past two decades.” “If there are still salmon in the waters, they have a shot and so do we. They will come down. They must come down. Our existence depends on it.”
However, plans to demolish the dams are controversial.
Copco Lake is home to a group of homeowners who have been fighting the dam removal plans for many years. They claim that the lakefront properties have seen their property values plummet. The coalition against the demolition plan claims that the money allocated for demolition is inadequate and that taxpayers would be responsible for any cost overruns or liability.
They also wonder if removing dams will restore salmon due to changes in the Pacific Ocean, stated Richard Marshall, chief of the Siskiyou County Water Users Association.
The question is: Will this increase the production of salmon? He said that it has everything to do the ocean and that this effort will be futile. “Nobody has ever attempted to solve the problem by removing dams.
The project is also causing anger among rate payers in rural counties surrounding the dams. It has been funded by $250 million from PacifiCorp, and $250 million from a voter approved water bond in California.
U.S. regulators raised concerns about potential cost overruns in 2020. This nearly killed the proposal. However, PacifiCorp (Oregon, California, and PacifiCorp), which operate the hydroelectric dams, is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway billionaire company. They teamed up to add $50 million in contingency funds.
According to the company, the utility will have to pay high costs to add fish ladders and other mitigations to the dams. This is in order to renew their hydroelectric licence. However, they have diversified their energy portfolio in recent years enough to absorb the loss of dams.
The license surrender must be signed off by Oregon, California, and Klamath River Renewal Corporation if regulators approve it on Thursday. After that, work can start. It could be approved by regulators, with additional specifications or rejected altogether.
Copco 2, the smallest of the dams, could be down by the next summer if approved by Craig Tucker, natural resource policy consultant for Karuk Tribe. He stated that the dam reservoirs would slowly be drained in the early 2024 with the goal of returning the river to its original channel by the end of 2024.
According to Kober of American Rivers, the scope of this project is larger than the largest U.S. dam removal. In 2012, two century-old dams on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula were smashed on the Eolwha River. She said that environmental experts have not seen any other river restoration projects in the world with such a large scope as the one for the Klamath.
According to the organization, 1951 dams had been demolished in the United States as of February. This includes 57 dams that will be destroyed in 2021. Many of them have been demolished over the last 25 years, as older facilities become available for relicensing.