Regulators approve Klamath dam removal, largest effort in US history

SOUTHERN OREGON, —US regulators are giving the final go-ahead for a historic Klamath dam removal plan. When the time comes next year, it’ll be the largest dam removal, in US history.

Over a decade of work has finally come to a settlement, and the work will begin soon. But it still has many political leaders and locals disagreeing with the decision.

“The commission is approving Pacific Corp’s application to surrender its license for the lower Klamath hydro project and the removal of the project’s four dams,” said FERC Chairman, Richard Glick.

A historic day, that’s what many are calling Thursday.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC gave its approval to remove four dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon. In its ruling, commissioners found the project to be in the public interest.

“The dam removals make sense in large part as it relates to fish and wildlife protection, I think also there’s a discussion regarding the impact on tribes,” said Glick.

The decision is a culmination of years of work on the project’s licensee Pacific Corp, Pacific Power’s parent company in the parts of Oregon and California, and several state and local agencies along with several tribes. One of those tribes is the Karuk Tribe, located in the center of the Klamath Basin.

“People are celebrating up and down the river, there are parties going on in the river bars and down the Klamath River I think there’s a lot of champagne corks let loose this morning it’s just a huge accomplishment,” said Craig Tucker with the Karuk Tribe.

The Karuk believes dam removal is the best thing that can be done to improve water quality, and salmon health in the Klamath River. But not everyone feels the same way.

“The scientific evidence does not actually support the idea that removing these dams is going to somehow create a proliferation of salmon, that it’s more related to the conditions of the ocean. Situations that we have a lack of salmon,” said Richard Marshall, President of the Siskiyou County Water Users Association. Marshall says extra harm will come to salmon as a result of the sediment that will be released downstream.

“There’s going to be no turning back after the dams are taken back there’s no way to go back and recreate the situation,” said Marshall.

Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley called the largest dam removal project in American history a historic milestone in a joint statement Thursday. It reads in part, “Clearing this key procedural hurdle was critical to support the ongoing efforts by Klamath stakeholders to restore vibrant salmon runs that sustain commercial and recreational fisheries and have been the core of the cultural, spiritual, and economic well-being of the Klamath Basin tribes.”

But on the other side of the political aisle, it’s opposed by southern Oregon and northern California’s Republican US Congressman. Cliff Bentz and Doug LaMalfa came out with a joint statement in September opposing dam removal. Both say the argument for removing the dams is based on questionable research.

According to their statement, “It’s unconscionable that so-called environmental advocates are forcing dam removals across the west without the scientific evidence to back up their ideas, and no acknowledgment of the catastrophic consequences that could occur from these actions.”

It’s expected to cost half a billion dollars to remove the dams. It’s being funded by taxpayers in California and Pacific Corp customers in both states. The process is scheduled to begin in the middle of next year.

NBC5 News Reporter Jenna King is a Burbank native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports Business. During her time at the U of O, she was part of the student-run television station, Duck TV. She also grew her passion for sports through interning with the PAC 12 Network. When Jenna is not in the newsroom you can find her rooting for her hometown Dodgers, exploring the outdoors, or binging on the latest Netflix release.
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