Approved largest dam removal in US history

The federal government is greenlighting the largest dam removal in US history, paving the way for unprecedented restoration of the Klamath River Basin in California and Oregon.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has given the final stamp of approval to remove four dams along the lower Klamath River, restoring access to more than 300 miles of salmon habitat and improving water quality. After years of talks, FERC said Thursday it “approved the delivery of the Lower Klamath project license and the proposed removal of the four project developments [the dams].”

This comes after a decades-long push by river basin tribes whose livelihoods and culture are intertwined with the river. The Yurok tribe told ABC News that if the salmon disappear from the river, so do they as a people.

“Salmon is a critical species to the survival of this ecosystem that we are a part of. And if there ever comes a time when there are no more salmon in the river, then our ecosystem will have failed completely and will not be able to sustain our life here on this world,” Frankie Myers, vice president of the Yurok tribe, told ABC News.

ABC News spent two days along the Klamath River – California’s second largest river – and its largest tributary, the Trinity, where the Yurok tribe has spent years conducting river restoration projects trying to bring salmon back which has been there for thousands of years. With low and warming waters and dams blocking their passages to and from the ocean, some salmon species are endangered.

“The fish that are produced here, have to cross the Klamath twice during their lifetime. They have to transit it on their way to the ocean in the summer, and then they have to come back in the summer and fall off as adults.” Conditions in the lower Klamath are a neck bottle… Last year we had a huge kill of juvenile fish on the Klamath, where we lost 80-90% of the migrating juveniles,” Kyle DeJulio, a biologist with the Yurok tribe, told ABC. “Removing dams and restoring the Klamath River is vital to the entire system.”

The Yurok tribe depend on salmon both spiritually and for a major part of their diet. Now, according to the University of California, Berkeley, nearly 92 percent of tribal members in the Basin face food insecurity.

Molli Myers, the wife of Frankie Myers, told ABC News what their pantries are like when they don’t have plenty of fish.

“They’re going to be pretty naked,” Molli Myers said, as she showed off what was left of last year’s salmon that she caught and canned. The tribe relies on salmon as a staple of their diet and claims it is unhealthy and unnatural when they have no choice but to supplement that diet.

Frankie and Molli Myers have spent their entire relationship fighting for the removal of the dam over the past 20 years, since a 2002 fish kill killed an estimated 34,000 fish in the Klamath River, a tipping point that led tribes to call for its removal. of the four lower Klamath Dams.

Many of the people who will be on the front lines working to remove the dams in the coming years are tribal members themselves who have also worked on restoring the river.

“I think it’s really important that we, you know, take a look at, you know, what we’ve done as humans to harm these ecosystems. And, you know, let’s take responsibility and try to, you know, turn things around and do some good.” , you know,” Alderon McCovey told ABC News. McCovey is operating the excavator, removing mine tailings from the gold mine rush for the largest restoration project to date along the Trinity.

By the time that project is finished, it will have restored floodplain habitat by 1,000%, according to the Yurok tribe.

PacifiCorp, which owns and operates the dams, backs the removal saying it makes financial sense — it costs about $450 million to remove, which they believe is a less expensive option than doing environmental retrofits. PacifiCorp tells ABC News that these dams provide no water for irrigation and very little hydroelectricity since it makes up 2% of their portfolio, which they can replace with another clean energy.

The main opponents of the removal are found in Siskiyou County, where leaders told us 80 percent of community members voted against the removal in 2010. County leaders say the reservoir behind the Copco Dam is vital for firefighting efforts, allowing easy withdrawal of water from aircraft.

Brandon Criss, assistant county supervisor for District 1 of Yreka, told ABC News that property values ​​in the area are declining with the impending clearance: Waterfront properties will be surrounded by land once the reservoir is emptied. .

“I fear for the aftermath when the dams come down. The flooding, the sediment… the loss of property value, homes. And I am concerned that once the hoopla is over, this county will be left with the purse for the aftermath — the negative consequences of that. Everyone else washes their hands of it. He’s going to have to live with it for generations,” Criss said.

Even supporters of dam removal admit that removal alone may not revive the salmon population. Salmon have to spend time in the ocean, and with an increasingly unhealthy ocean environment, fish still have to fight to survive.

However, this is important and historic and exciting for Frankie and Molli Myers and all the tribal members of the basin.

“I will always try to represent who we are to the world,” said Molli Myers, who carries on customs such as cooking acorns, weaving baskets and proudly wearing the traditional facial tattoos of her ancestors

California Governor Gavin Newsom called Thursday’s decision the culmination of “more than a decade of work to revitalize the Klamath River and its vital role in the tribal communities, cultures and livelihoods it supports.”

Oregon Governor Kate Brown called this not only an ecological restoration, but “also an act of restorative justice,” going on to say “since time immemorial, the indigenous peoples of the Klamath Basin have preserved the lands, waters, fish and wildlife of this precious region – and this project will not only improve its aquatic and fish habitat, but also stimulate our economy.”

Work to shore up the roads surrounding the four dams will begin in early 2023, with the goal of actually removing the dams in early 2024.

Copyright © 2022 ABC News Internet Ventures.

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