Federal report strengthens plan to remove 4 Calif River dams

Federal report strengthens plan to remove 4 Calif River dams

Federal report strengthens plan to remove 4 Calif River dams

California Dam Removal (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

California Dam Removal (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Federal regulators on Friday released a final environmental impact statement supporting the demolition of four massive dams on Northern California’s Klamath River to save endangered migratory salmon.

Staff recommendation, which largely echoes an earlier draft opinion, leads to a vote on the approximately $ 500 million project by the five-member Federal Energy Regulation Commission by the end of the year. .

The removal of the four hydroelectric dams on the lower Klamath River, one in southern Oregon and three in California, would be the largest dam demolition project in US history.

The old dams near the Oregon-California border were built before current environmental regulations and essentially cut the 253-mile (407-kilometer) river in half for salmon migration. Migratory salmon have been hit hard by warming waters and low river flows caused by severe drought and competition for water with agricultural interests.

The project on California’s second largest river would be at the forefront of pushing for dam demolition in the United States as structures age and become less economically viable and as concerns about their environmental impact, particularly on fish, grow.

Tribes in Northern California have been fighting for years to remove the dikes. They cheered for the latest news.

“We can see the light at the end of the dam removal tunnel,” Karuk chairman Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery said in a statement. “I am so proud of everyone in our river communities who have worked so hard over the past 20 years to realize our vision of restoring rivers.”

River Coho salmon are listed as threatened by federal and California law, and their population has decreased from 52% to 95%. Spring chinook salmon, once the largest run in the Klamath Basin, was down 98%.

Fall chinooks, the last to persist in significant numbers, have been so meager in recent years that the Yurok tribe canceled fishing last year for the first time from memory. In 2017, they bought fish from a grocery store for their annual salmon festival.

In recent years, as many as 90% of the young salmon sampled have tested positive for a disease that occurs when river flows are low.

If the dams remained, the PacifiCorp power company would likely have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars adapting the structures to comply with today’s environmental laws. As it stands, the utility said electricity generated by dams no longer forms a significant part of its energy portfolio.

The original scrapping proposal failed after regulators initially refused to allow PacifiCorp to fully exit the project.

A landmark agreement reached in 2020 made Oregon and California equal partners in demolition with a nonprofit entity called Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which will oversee the project. That deal also added $ 45 million to the project’s $ 450 million budget after fears the available funds weren’t enough to cover any overruns.

Oregon, California and PacifiCorp, which operates the hydroelectric dams and is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett Berkshire Hathaway’s company, each provided one-third of the additional funds.

Some critics have argued that the Oregon and California governors were irresponsible in taking financial responsibility for cost overruns and argue that part of the project is financed by a California voter-approved water bond.

Some local and state officials are concerned about flood control, and residents living around a large reservoir created by one of the dams have unsuccessfully sued to stop the project.

The dams that would be demolished are Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and JC Boyle, which is located in Oregon.

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