By GILLIAN FLACCUS – Associated press
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Federal regulators released a final environmental impact statement on Friday that backs the demolition of four massive dams on the Klamath River in northern California to save endangered migratory salmon.
The staff recommendation, which largely echoes an earlier draft advisory, triggers a vote on the roughly $500 million project by the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission later this year. .
Removing 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 aging dams near the Oregon-California border were built before current environmental regulations and have essentially bisected the 253-mile (407-kilometer-long) river for migrating salmon. Migrating salmon have been hit hard by warming waters and low river flows caused by severe drought and competition for water with agricultural interests.
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The project on California’s second-largest river would be at the forefront of a campaign to demolish dams in the United States as structures age and become less economically viable and concerns grow over their environmental impact. , especially on fish.
Northern California tribes have been fighting for years to remove dams. They applauded the latest news.
“We can see the light at the end of the dam removal tunnel,” Karuk President Russell “Buster” Attebery said in a statement. “I am so proud of all the members of our riverside communities who have worked so hard over the past 20 years to realize our vision of river restoration.
Coho salmon in the river are listed as threatened under federal and California law, and their population has dropped by 52% to 95%. Spring chinook, once the largest run in Klamath Basin, has declined by 98%.
Fall chinook, the last to persist in significant numbers, have been so depleted in recent years that the Yurok Tribe called off the fishery last year for the first time in memory. In 2017, they bought fish from a grocery store for their annual salmon festival.
In recent years, up to 90% of juvenile salmon sampled have tested positive for a disease that develops when river flows are low.
If the dams remained, power company PacifiCorp would likely have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading the structures to comply with today’s environmental laws. As it stands, the utility said electricity generated by the dams no longer represents a significant portion of its electricity portfolio.
The original demolition proposal foundered after regulators initially balked at allowing PacifiCorp to exit the project altogether.
A landmark agreement reached in 2020 made Oregon and California equal partners in demolition with a nonprofit called Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which will oversee the project. This agreement also added $45 million to the project’s $450 million budget after concerns that available funds were not sufficient to cover overruns.
Oregon, California, and PacifiCorp, which operates the hydroelectric dams and is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway, each provided a third of the additional funds.
Some critics have said the governors of Oregon and California were irresponsible for taking financial responsibility for cost overruns and object that part of the project is being funded by a voter-approved California water bond.
Some local and state officials are concerned about flood control, and residents who live 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 in Oregon.
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