West Coast
Crews remove the Copco 2 dam. The Klamath River now flows free, where the dam once stood. KLAMATH RIVER RENEWAL CORPORATION

CA - First of Four Klamath Dams Has Been Removed

And then there were three. The nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corporation recently announced that work to remove the first of four hydroelectric dams clogging the lower Klamath River is complete, bringing the largest dam removal project in the nation’s history one step closer to fruition.

“Seeing the Klamath River flow through this canyon after being diverted for nearly a century is inspiring,” said Laura Hazlett, KRRC’s chief operating officer, in a press release.

“It makes me excited for everything else that is to come with the removal of the other three dams.” Pushed forward by decades of advocacy efforts of Klamath River Basin tribes, including the Karuk and Yurok tribes, the Klamath dam removal project is slated to be completed by November of 2024, re-opening hundreds of miles of historic spawning habitat to salmonid species that have been pushed to the brink.

Approved by federal regulators last year, the scope of the $500 million dam removal plan is hard to comprehend, as it will see a combined 500 feet of dams removed, with 100,000 cubic yards of concrete, 1.3 million cubic yards of excavated soil and 2,000 tons of demolished steel pulled from the river’s path.

Removal will be followed by a years-long restoration effort utilizing more than 17 billion native seeds and 300,000 trees and shrub plugs and starts to replant 2,000 acres of land currently covered by three reservoirs created by the dams.Removal of the first dam — Copco 2 — represents a significant milestone in the effort local tribes have pushed for since 2002, when water conditions on the river caused by the dams led to a massive fish kill that left as many as 60,000 adult salmon dead in the river by some counts.

The smallest of the dams slated for removal at 25 feet, Copco 2 sits between the much larger Copco 1 and Iron Gate dams, diverting the river’s flow through a powerhouse. It was removed first as a matter of operational efficiency, KRRC CEO Mark Bransom previously told the Journal, as removal crews had to bring all kinds of heavy machinery into the area to bore a tunnel through Copco 1 to facilitate the drawdown of its reservoir beginning in January, so it made sense just to remove Copco 2 in the course of that work. (Read a detailed account of the removal plans here.)

With Copco 2 gone and Copco 1 prepared for draw down, work will now shift to preparing the JC Boyle dam for drawdown of its reservoir. The plan is for drawdown of all three reservoirs to begin in January, timed to coincide with the river’s natural high flow months to help facilitate the flushing of sediment. The drawdown is expected to take three to five months, depending on weather and the amount of water entering the river from spring runoff.

As drawdown begins in January, so will a massive planting effort aimed at covering the 2,000 acres of land that has long sat under water with native grasses, trees and shrubs.

Once drawdown is complete, deconstruction of the other three dams will commence, tentatively scheduled to run from May to November, after which the lower Klamath River will flow freely for the first time in a century. Restoration and replanting work, meanwhile, will continue at least through 2030.See a slideshow of images documenting Copco 2's removal below.

Read more.