Klamath dam removal project in final approval stage

A plan to remove four dams on the Klamath River is now just one step away from final approval, which would make it the largest dam removal project in U.S. history.

The Klamath River Renewal Project includes four separate dams on the Northern Portion of the Klamath River near the California Oregon border.

The dams have created inexpensive energy for nearly a century. Dave Meurer with the Klamath River Renewal Corporation said the dams are hurting fish and water quality.

"The oldest dam is like 100 years old and it was not built with the environmental consequences or the fish consequences in mind," said Meurer. "So, fish numbers have been crashing for decades. There are endangered species in the river, endangered salmon, and other various fish"

The quality has gotten so bad that on occasion, the water fills with toxic algae blooms and people are warned from using it.

"The Klamath River is one of the most impaired rivers in the United States," said Meurer.

Every 50 years a dam's license must be renewed. This time around, the federal and state governments said a license renewal could not happen unless something was done to save the fish and improve the water quality.

After review, it was decided that it would be less expensive for customers to remove the dams.

Meurer said the California Public Utilities Commission also supported that removal would create a better outcome for customers.

"The upgrades and fish passages and fish ladders and the water improvement they would have to do was so prohibitively expensive that the least cost alternative for their customers was to remove the dams," said Meurer.

So, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, or KRRC, was formed to do just that.

The owner of the dams, PacifiCorp, weighed the costs and decided it would be the best business move to help with the cost of the removal then to step out of the picture and leave the rest to KRRC.

PacifiCorp has been adding a surcharge to it's customers and as a result is offering $200 million to the removal project.

On top of the $200 million from PacifiCorp, The state added another $250 million with the Water Bond. So, the project already has $450 million.

If approved, the water will be drawn down slowly before construction would begin in January of 2021.

Eventually, the river will move back to it's original path. Meurer said this will impact nearly 50 homes. KRRC plans to help each of those properties become flood-safe.

As for what will replace the energy source, Bob Gravely with PacifiCorp said less than two percent of the company's energy comes from the dams on the Klamath River.

"This is not something that anyone should be concerned about whatsoever," Gravely said. "Replacing the power lost from the dams can be as easy as simply running another plant more or buying additional power on wholesale energy markets. We have many ways to replace it, and will follow whatever the least-cost, most attractive option is when the time comes."

The final step is to wait for the federal government to approve the 2,300 page proposal.

"The last gate to go through is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and they will tell us 'go' or 'no-go' or likely, 'go, but here's some other things we want you to do.'" said Meurer.

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