190 miles from the mouth of the Klamath River, Iron Gate Dam is one of four dams that Portland-based hydroelectric producer PacifiCorp is seeking to decommission and remove. PacifiCorp wants to transfer responsibility for the dam to a nonprofit company, which would spend $290 million on removing the dams, beginning in 2020.

190 miles from the mouth of the Klamath River, Iron Gate Dam is one of four dams that Portland-based hydroelectric producer PacifiCorp is seeking to decommission and remove. PacifiCorp wants to transfer responsibility for the dam to a nonprofit company, which would spend $290 million on removing the dams, beginning in 2020. (Molly Peterson/KQED)

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The owner of four dams on the Klamath River and the nonprofit corporation created to take responsibility for their destruction recently filed long-awaited applications with federal regulators to remove the dams.

“This is a major milestone,” said Mike Carrier, chair of the nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corp. (KRRC), an entity created to oversee the massive dam removal process. Federal officials estimate decommissioning and removal could cost at least $290 million, with that work to be paid for by ratepayers of PacifiCorp and the state of California’s Proposition 1.

Portland-based PacifiCorp submitted paperwork on Sept. 23, seeking permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to transfer ownership of the dams to the Klamath River Renewal Corp. KRRC joined that application, and is separately asking FERC to approve dam decommissioning.

“Early 20th century hydropower that was constructed didn’t foresee some of the environmental consequences that it would create, such as sediment behind dams, and the blockage of fish passage for species like salmon and steelhead,” KRRC’s Carrier said. He added that a dam relicensing process made complicated by environmental regulations influenced PacifiCorp’s decision to retire the hydropower projects as well. “They penciled it out and realized that the best business decision would be to agree to dam decommissioning and removal.”

The Klamath River, which flows 263 miles from the plains of south-central Oregon to the rocky shores of California, is claimed by two states’ worth of farmers, fishers, native tribes and environmental groups.

It once teemed with chinook, coho, steelhead and other trout runs throughout the year. Several Native American tribes, including Yurok, Hoopa and Karuk nations in California, have relied on its waters for thousands of years. Diverse interests have sparred over the Klamath for more than a century, when upriver dams began to enable irrigation, control flooding and create hydroelectricity.

Since 2001, a year when upriver farmers’ water allocations were cut off, and 2002, when 70,000 fish died downriver, representatives of those diverse interests have negotiated ways to share the river and its resources.

“Ten years ago the idea of dam removal was extremely foreign, yet it was an idea that the parties rallied around,” said John Bezdek, counsel to the deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior. “They felt like with this central issue being addressed, it could provide a lot of the other things that was needed.”

In 2011, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement aimed to improve water quality and fish habitat as well as create a framework to share water and end bitter water rights battles. But Republicans in Congress blocked the deals until they expired last December.

Now applicants want to decommission and remove four of the Klamath’s five dams — J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2 and Iron Gate Dam — with work to begin in four years.

“This is great news and there’s no time to waste,” said Karuk Tribe Councilman Joshua Saxon, in a prepared statement. “We are suffering from one of the worst salmon runs in history this year.”

But even with the support of PacificCorp, dam removal remains unpopular in some circles. Political leaders, including county supervisors in Siskiyou County, are vowing to contest the FERC application.

This is the first in a series of stories from the Klamath River basin. In the coming weeks we’ll continue to look at the politics, the people and the fish.

Will the Klamath River Be Renewed? Owner Applies to Remove 4 of 5 Dams 27 September,2016Molly Peterson

  • “Political leaders, including county supervisors in Siskiyou County, are vowing to contest the FERC application.”

    doubling down on stupid – sigh

  • Green Bean

    I sure hope that this happens. Let the rivers flow and salmon replenish.

  • Unofelice

    PacifiCorp’s Klamath Hydroelectric Project includes a fifth dam and reservoir – Keno – which PacifiCorp hopes to transfer to the US Bureau of Reclamation without any hearing or oversight by FERC or anyone else. That should not happen and we need outfits like KQED to get beyond the PacifiCorp et al hype to shine a light on the issue of Keno. Here’s why:

    Keno reservoir has the worst water quality in the basin including regular fish kills. The transfer of Keno to Reclamation (which wants it to protect ag diversions from the reservoir) should include a commitment to clean up Keno; tht clean-up is essential to restoration of Klamath Water Quality and Salmon. But the romance of dam removal is blinding many to the reality that failure to clean up Keno will frustrate restoration of water quality and therefore also frustrate efforts to restore salmon runs. Karuk leaders know this (or they should) and it is a disappointment that they seek to facilitate PacifiCorp transferring the other Klamath River dam to The US Bureau of Reclamation without Reclamation making any commitment to clean up Keno water quality. What are these leaders thinking? The romance of dam removal apears to have blinded them to the realities of Klamath water quality.

    And by the way, Keno cleanup is entirely feasible with treatment wetlands on its shores.

    Will KQED dig a little deeper and follow up with a story about PacifiCorp’s fifth lamaqth River dam? I hope so.