During the final week of August, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its final Environmental Impact Statement which recommends the removal of the lower four Klamath River Dams. The removal of the dams, which is slated to take place in 2024, will be the largest dam removal project in the history of the world.
“We can see the light at the end of the dam removal tunnel,” said Karuk Chairman Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery. “I am so proud of everyone in our river communities that have worked so hard for the past 20 years to realize our vision of river restoration.”
Removing the Klamath dams will open more than 300 miles of spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead. It will also be the first time the Klamath will flow freely in over a century and start the healing process for the watershed and the communities that depend on it.
Klamath communities that depend on salmon fisheries for economic and cultural survival have campaigned for years to remove the lower four Klamath dams. The dams provide no irrigation diversions, no drinking water, and almost no flood control benefit. The dams were built for hydropower but managing the aging structures today costs more than they’re worth.
According to the FEIS, “Commission staff recommends approval of the proposed license surrender, decommissioning and removal of the [dam] project…” The document goes on to state, “The proposed action would result in benefits to water quality, aquatic resources, fisheries, and terrestrial resources used by all Tribes. These benefits would aid in the continuation and restoration of Tribal practices and traditions that have been adversely affected [by the dams].”
This monumental decision validates decades of work on the part of more than 40 partner organizations, including the Karuk, Yurok, and Klamath Tribes, the states of California and Oregon, and commercial fishing and conservation groups.
“We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Tribal People and our allies who made this moment possible,” continued Yurok Vice Chairman Frankie Myers. “We would not be here without their relentless advocacy.”
The final approval comes almost exactly 20 years after a massive fish kill that left over 60,000 adult salmon rotting along the banks of the Klamath River in September of 2002. Today’s Klamath River salmon returns are less than 5% of their historical abundance with some runs extirpated from the system. Dams deny salmon access to hundreds of miles of historical habitat, degrade water quality, and foster the spread of fish diseases.