PORTLAND, Ore. — U.S. regulators on Thursday approved a plan to tear down four dams on a California river and open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat in what would be the largest dam removal and river restoration project ever. in the world in the future.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s unanimous vote on the lower Klamath River dams is the latest major regulatory hurdle and biggest milestone for a $500 million demolition proposal championed by Native American tribes and environmentalists for years. The project would return the lower half of California’s second-largest river to a free-flowing state for the first time in more than a century.
Indigenous tribes who depend on the Klamath River and its salmon for their way of life have been a driving force in bringing down dams in a remote wilderness that stretches across the California-Oregon border. Barring unforeseen complications, Oregon, California and the entity formed to oversee the project will agree to the license transfer and could begin dam removal as early as this summer, the developers said.
“Klamath salmon are coming home,” Yurok president Joseph James said after the vote. “The people deserved this victory and with it we continue our sacred duty to the fish that have supported our people since the dawn of time.”
The dams generate less than 2% of PacifiCorp’s electricity output — enough to power about 70,000 homes — when operating at full capacity, said utility spokesman Bob Gravely. But they often operate at a much lower capacity due to low water levels in the river and other issues, and the deal that set the stage for Thursday’s vote was ultimately a business decision, he said. he declares.
PacifiCorp should have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in fish ladders, fish screens and other conservation upgrades under environmental regulations that were not in place when the aging dams were built for the first time. But with the deal approved Thursday, the cost of the utility is capped at $200 million, with an additional $250 million coming from a water bond approved by California voters.
“We are closing coal plants and building wind farms and it all has to add up in the end. It’s not one on one,” he said of the upcoming demolition of the dam. “You can offset that power by how you run the rest of your facilities or by saving energy so your customers use less.”
Approval of the Dams Surrender Order is the foundation of the most ambitious salmon restoration plan in history and the scope of the project – measured by the number of dams and the amount of habitat river that would reopen to salmon — in fact the largest of its kind in the world, said Amy Souers Kober, a spokeswoman for American Rivers, which monitors dam removals and advocates for river restoration.
More than 300 miles of salmon habitat in the Klamath River and its tributaries would benefit, she said.
The decision is in line with a trend to remove aging and outdated dams across the United States as they come forward for license renewal and face the same government-mandated upgrade costs as dams in the Klamath River would have had.
In the United States, 1,951 dams were demolished in February, including 57 in 2021, American Rivers said. Most of them have declined over the past 25 years as facilities age and need to be renewed.
On Thursday, the commissioners called the decision “momental” and “historic” and stressed the importance of taking action during National Native American Heritage Month because of its importance for the restoration of salmon and the revival of the river which is at the heart of the culture of several tribes. In the region.
“Some people might ask in this time of great need for zero emissions: ‘Why are we removing the dams?’ First of all, we need to understand that this doesn’t happen every day…many of these projects were allowed many years ago when the environmental issues weren’t as significant,” said the FERC Chairman Richard Glick. “Some of these projects have a significant impact on the environment and a significant impact on fish.”
Glick added that in the past the commission has not considered the effect of energy projects on tribes, but said it was a “very important part” of Thursday’s decision.
Members of the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribes and other supporters lit a bonfire and watched the vote on a remote sandbar of the Klamath River via a satellite link to symbolize their hopes for the river’s renewal.
“I understand that some of these tribes are watching this meeting today at the (river) bar and I’m raising a toast to you,” commissioner Willie Phillips said.
The vote comes at a critical time when human-induced climate change is hammering the western United States with prolonged drought, said Tom Kiernan, president of American Rivers. He said allowing California’s second-largest river to flow naturally and its floodplains and wetlands to function normally would mitigate those impacts.
“The best way to deal with increasing floods and droughts is to allow the river system to be healthy and do its job,” he said.
The Klamath Basin watershed covers more than 14,500 square miles (37,500 square kilometers) and the Klamath itself was once the third largest salmon-producing river on the West Coast. But the dams, built between 1918 and 1962, essentially cut the river in two and prevent salmon from reaching spawning grounds upstream. As a result, salmon runs have been declining for years.
The smallest dam, Copco 2, could burst this summer. The remaining dams – one in southern Oregon and two in California – will be drained very slowly beginning in early 2024 with the goal of returning the river to its natural state by the end of this year.
Projects to remove dams have not been without controversy.
Owners of Lake Copco, a large reservoir, are vigorously opposing the demolition plan, and ratepayers in rural counties around the dams are concerned that ratepayers will bear the cost of any overruns or liability issues. Critics also believe removing the dam won’t be enough to save the salmon due to the changing ocean conditions the fish encounter before returning to their home river.
“The whole question is will this add to the increase in salmon production? It has everything to do with what is happening in the ocean (and) we think it will turn out to be a futile effort,” said said Richard Marshall, head of the Siskiyou County Water Users Association. “No one has ever tried to solve the problem by dealing with the existing situation without simply removing the roadblocks.”
US regulators flagged the potential for cost overruns and liability issues in 2020, nearly killing the proposal, but Oregon, California and PacifiCorp, which operates the hydroelectric dams and is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire company Hathaway, have teamed up to add an additional $50. million in provident funds.
PacifiCorp will continue to operate the dams until demolition begins.
The largest dam demolition in the United States to date is the removal of two dams on the Elwha River on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in 2012.
#largest #dam #demolition #history #approved #California #river