Dams Getting Closer to Coming Down on Cali’s Klamath


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When two tribes, two states and Warren Buffett step up and commit to the world’s biggest dam removal project – it’s a big deal.

So says conservation group American Rivers, reporting on what happened last week, when the Karuk and Yurok tribes, California Governor Newsom, Oregon Governor Brown, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation and PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, announced an agreement that advances the removal of four dams on the Klamath River.

This river restoration has taken decades of effort by the tribes, American Rivers and other partners. And soon this river, and its salmon, will again be flowing free.

According to American Whitewater, the revised schedule now calls for dam removal in 2022, but this was contingent on a ruling from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approving transfer of the license, followed by approval of a license surrender and decommissioning. According to AW’s Evan Stafford, once removed the dams will open up new paddling possibilities in 44 miles of the 250-mile-long waterway stretching from the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean. “It’s a little mixed because some sections have had flows that support commercial rafting already for a longer than natural season, but then there’s also new sections that will have flow that have never had enough for the most part.”

One of those is Ward’s Canyon,  which AW executives got a chance to paddle this past summer “Ward’s Canyon is a dream come true, with nearly continuous technical Class III and IV drops and scenery to die for,” wrote participant Bill Cross in AW Journal. “At 800 cfs, the run was a joy in every boat we brought: hardshell kayaks, 13- and 14-foot oar rafts, and one paddle cat. The only flaw—caused by a century of water diversion—is an unnatural overgrowth of alders and willows, many sticking right up in the active channel.

“Ward’s Canyon is glorious, and best of all, it represents just one short stretch out of a total of 44 boatable miles on the Upper Klamath,” Cross adds. “When the dams come out, boaters will be able to explore a host of new day trips and string together outstanding multiday journeys. The flows studies proved what we’ve been arguing all along: that a restored Upper Klamath will be one of the West’s great whitewater rivers.”

In a story for outfitter OARS, Tyler Williams, who paddled the river source to sea in 2009, writes: “When Iron Gate and the other dams are gone, wild salmon will swim past, perhaps pausing momentarily, before gliding over once-dry boulders to find nearly forgotten spawning sites. Like the salmon, I too will travel the Klamath’s reborn waters, pausing at the former dam sites to reflect on what we humans are capable of; for worse, and sometimes for better.”

The press conference on November 17 was moving, reports American Rivers, with everyone speaking from the heart.

The Tribes’ Perspective

“This dam removal is more than just a concrete project coming down. It’s a new day and a new era for tribes,”said Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James. “We are connected with our heart and prayers to these creeks, lands and animals, and our way of life will thrive with these dams coming out.”

“It is our duty and our oath to bring balance to the river,” he added. “The effort to heal the Klamath River is an expression of tribal sovereignty, a fulfillment of Indian rights and a restoration of justice. It benefits our neighbors up and down the West coast. The effort to heal the Klamath River is who we are. We walk it, we live it, we pray it.”

A map of the dams. (Courtesy American Rivers)

Karuk Chairman Russell Attebery added similar thanks at the press conference. .

“The Karuk people have been dependent on salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, eels since the beginning of time,” he said at the press conference. “My worst day as chairman is when I said there were no fish available for our tribal members, our elders, our children…I’m looking forward very much to having the best day as chairman when I can say we have restored those fish and we can enjoy those bonding times with our children, when we can go to the river and put the food on the table together.”

“We hope it is a benefit to everyone. Everyone who comes into contact with the Klamath River. Everyone who lives close to the river who wants to vacation here, the farmers and irrigators who live in the upper basin. We want to make sure there is enough water for everybody. Working together, we can do that.”

The Iron Gate Dam.

Added Oregon Governor Kate Brown: “What we are doing is more than just signing a legal document. We are taking an incredibly important step forward on the path toward restorative justice for the people of the Klamath basin and toward restoring the health of the river as well as everyone and everything that depends on it.”

“The agreement is about far more than the removal of four dams. It’s a step toward righting historic injustices while also putting these lands and waters on a path to the future that everyone can share.”


Finally, added California Governor Gavin Newsom:“Some of my greatest memories are going up to this river with my father…passion doesn’t begin to describe his environmental stewardship, and he really made that indelible in my life. It’s in that generational mindset that I’m here. In a time that we’re filled with so much cynicism, so much anxiety, so much negativity, that we’re here on the precipice of the largest river restoration project in the history of this country…what an extraordinary moment.”



For more info, visit www.americanrivers.org



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