The long awaited process of Klamath dam removal is underway.
The Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) was established in 2016 to restore the Klamath River by taking ownership of four PacifiCorp dams and managing the decommissioning process for these facilities. In its first year, KRRC’s twelve Board members (appointed by Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) signatories) have built its legal, technical, and operational teams; established governance, financial, and risk management systems; secured long-term funding; commenced the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and state water quality permitting processes; and begun fleshing out the dam decommissioning details. In addition, KRRC has been working to acquaint itself with local community members and stakeholders to understand their relationship to the river and perspective on the project.
But KRRC’s work is just beginning. KRRC plans to initiate dam removal in 2020. Before then, FERC and other agencies will have to approve the project. To support these regulatory processes over the next year, KRRC has begun preliminary field work, met with regulators, prepared additional technical information, environmental data, and planning documents, and continues its local outreach. Other preparations include procuring construction services to perform dam removal and efforts to support local job creation.
KRRC’s Executive Director, Mark Bransom, who came on board in June of this year, brings personal passion and commitment to the endeavor along with a heavy dose of pragmatism. “The 2016 Agreement charged KRRC with performing the largest dam removal project in the nation’s history. The task is big and complicated and of course we will face challenges. But the rewards—a healthy Klamath River and region—will be more than worth the effort.”
After years of negotiations and collaboration between diverse stakeholders in the Klamath Basin, including tribes, fishers, conservationists, farmers, and government, KRRC is taking real steps forward toward restoring the Klamath River. The benefits of dam decommissioning, which have been studied extensively, are clear and substantial: dam removal will reopen 400 stream miles for salmon, steelhead, and lamprey and will improve water quality by restoring natural processes. These benefits will directly impact local tribal communities who depend on river fisheries for their health, livelihood, and cultural heritage, as well as all residents and visitors in the region who live near or engage in recreational activities along the river.
Dam decommissioning will help the economy. The California and Oregon Public Utilities Commissions found that dam decommissioning was in the best interest of PacifiCorp’s customers compared to the costly dam upgrades required for dam relicensing. KRRC also expects to create a few hundred local jobs, as well as stimulate up to 1,400 regional jobs through its local activities and investment. Healthy salmon runs are expected to add an estimated 450 jobs in the commercial and recreational fishing industries in California and Oregon. River restoration will also help avoid the significant negative economic impacts of fisheries closures and collapse.
Removing the four dams and the reservoirs behind them will change the landscape in the Klamath Basin. KRRC understands that there are real concerns and questions about how KRRC’s activities will affect water systems, properties, and recreation areas. Mr. Bransom had stated, “KRRC’s founding mission is to restore the river. But we also want to be a good neighbor and community member. We’re committed to working with local residents and governments to minimize any impacts while enhancing the project’s local benefits.”
To that end, KRRC will be holding public meetings throughout the Basin, including the North Coast, later this fall. KRRC will announce these dates later this summer and hope stakeholders will attend to make their voices heard at these meetings.
For more information on the KRRC’s work and to sign up to receive periodic updates visit: www.klamathrenewal.org. The times and dates of the upcoming public meetings will also be published on the KRRC website.
Editor's note: This article was originally published with the wrong author credit. Molly Croll's affiliation was incorrectly printed as the California Wilderness Coalition, but she is with the Klamath River Renewal Corporation. The digital byline has been corrected above.