SISKIYOU, Calif. —The largest river restoration project in American history is set to begin. Local, state, and tribal leaders all met Thursday to celebrate the momentous occasion in Siskiyou County.
Oregon and California’s democratic governors getting together Thursday in rural Siskiyou County. The state leaders say the approval of the project, now decades in the making involves collaboration at the state and local levels. But the $495 million dam removal plan still has some upset.
“These dams are coming down and it’s about damn time,” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown.
Governor Brown, Governor Gavin Newsom, US Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, and tribal leaders, are all coming together to celebrate the world’s largest dam removal along the Klamath River Thursday. The groups meeting at Iron Gate fish Hatchery in Hornbrook.
Last month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the final approval of the historic plan to remove four dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon. The decision is a culmination of years of work on the project’s licensee Pacific Corp, Pacific Power’s parent company, on the parts of Oregon and California and several state and local agencies along with several tribes.
“The folks out there that excise your leadership every single day that dialect that we had throughout this process where you expected and demanded more, you expressed that at times, sometimes it was uncomfortable, sometimes it was justifiable, I just want to thank you for making this moment happen,” said California Governor, Gavin Newsom.
The Klamath Basin watershed covers 9.4 million acres, an area larger than 9 US states. Leaders of the Klamath, Yurok, and Karuk Tribes attended Thursday. The tribes say the project will revitalize nearly 400 miles of the Klamath River and its tributaries, hoping to help restore river health and fish populations.
Yurok Chairman Joe James says this is a time in history people will look back on.
“What does this mean to us, it means a lot of things it means our heart our passion our commitment, for me we always go back to our cultures our practices our ceremonies, and our prayers have been answered,” said Chairman James.
But the day of celebration was met with some push-back from the community opposing the plan. A group of Copco Lake area residents says dam removal will drastically impact their way of life.
“A lot of people that live around the lake have already moved because of the impending disaster that’s going to happen, when a lake dries up it’s not a beautiful green field it’s a dry crusty salt flat once everything dries up,” said Lake Copco resident, Greg Jeter.
It’s also opposed by southern Oregon Congressman Cliff Bentz and northern California Congressman Doug LaMalfa both Republicans. They say the argument for removing the dams is based on questionable research.
The Department of the Interior also announcing four tribal water projects in the basin will also receive $5.8 million for restoring aquatic ecosystems. The first dam is expected to be removed in the middle of 2023.