Klamath River Dams
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Klamath River Dams Set to Be Demolished in World's Largest Removal Project

At least four dams in the Klamath River Basin in California and Oregon are set to be removed by 2024 in hopes of improving the habitat for declining salmon numbers. ABC News reported that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the plans to remove the four PacifiCorp-owned dams. The company estimates the removal efforts will cost $450 million.

For years, the Yurok Native American tribe has been a considerable part of the push to remove these dams. Many of the tribe's residents depend on salmon as a primary food source. However, with the obstacles caused by the dams plus large scale fish die-offs in the past generation, residents have seen a massive dip in the number of fish in the river and its tributaries.

"Salmon are a keystone species for their survival of this ecosystem that we're part of," Yurok Tribe Vice Chair Frankie Myers told ABC News. "And if there ever comes a time when there's no more salmon in the river, then our ecosystem will have failed completely and won't be able to sustain our life here on this world."

According to ABC News, 34,000 fish perished in a 2002 fish die-off that initially prompted tribal leaders to first call for the removal of the dams. They've been pushing the federal government to have the dams dismantled ever since. PacifiCorp told ABC News that demolishing the dams is more cost-effective than retrofitting the dams with fish ladders or other features meant to help the adult salmon return to their birthplace to spawn. PacifiCorp said the dams only produce around 2 percent of the total energy it generates anyway. Removing the dams will draw down several reservoirs and open an unimpeded path for the salmon to make that journey. Ultimately, this move will restore about 300 miles of the river basin to its original state.

"The conditions in the lower Klamath are a bottleneck," Yurok Tribe biologist Kyle DeJulio told ABC News. "Last year, we had a huge juvenile fish kill on the Klamath, where we lost 80-90% of migrating juveniles. Taking the dams out and restoring the Klamath River is vital to the entire system."

While the tribe and the company that owns the dams are on board with the project, it does have opponents. ABC News notes many residents in Siskiyou County, California, are against removal due to dropping property values. Firefighters in that county also don't want the dam removed because their aerial wildfire efforts use the reservoirs to reload the water tanks on their aircraft.

Some argue this type of conservation project may be too little, too late for salmon populations. That's mainly because major ocean pollution problems still make their lives hard before they return to the river. We're guessing this ruling may not be the final say in the matter, but for now, ABC News reports the work to remove the dams will start in early 2024 after crews brace the roads for the heavy equipment that will be needed in early 2023.

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