Work has officially begun on the world’s largest-ever dam-removal project, which also marks the biggest salmon restoration project to date. The Lower Klamath Hydropower Project comprises four dams, and their removal will help restore 38 miles of upstream habitat to a more natural state. The project, authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), began with construction work on March 10 to provide access for heavy equipment.
The smallest of the four dams, Copco No. 2, will be demolished first, with work starting in June and continuing through September. The drawdown of reservoirs behind the other three dams (J.C. Boyle, Iron Gate, and Copco No. 1) will begin in January 2024. The controlled release of water will allow the reservoirs to be emptied without causing flooding. An estimated five to seven million cubic yards of sediment will be released, roughly equivalent to the annual sediment transport of the Klamath River.
The Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) has committed to long-term monitoring and is prepared to address any issues resulting from sediment deposition. After the reservoirs are emptied, the river will be redirected using diversion tunnels, allowing dam infrastructure to be removed from a dry river channel. By the end of 2024, all four dams will be removed, and the Klamath River will be restored to a free-flowing condition.
The restoration work, managed by Texas-based firm RES (Resource Environmental Solutions), will involve stabilizing reservoir sediment through the reestablishment of native vegetation and creating high-quality habitat for returning salmon. In collaboration with the Karuk and Yurok tribes, RES has collected around 17 billion native seeds from the Klamath Basin to be used for sediment stabilization following dam removal. These seeds will form the foundation for regrowth of native vegetation in the area.
In addition to the main Klamath River, restoration work will focus on priority tributaries. Banks will be graded, and wood and rock habitat features will be installed to collect spawning gravels. Approximately 400 miles of fish habitat, including the main stem Klamath, creeks, and tributaries, will be restored as a result of dam removal.
Wendy Ferris, a KRRC board member appointed by the Karuk Tribe, expressed the deep connection local tribes have with the Klamath River Basin and the significance of restoring the river ecosystem for them. The project represents the first phase of bringing back their religion to a healthy state, living in balance with the land and maintaining a healthy community.
This monumental project, which has taken decades to achieve, will help restore a vital ecosystem and support the cultural and spiritual well-being of the local tribes who have lived in harmony with the land for thousands of years.