Klamath Dam removal update

I spent the last three days at the annual meeting of the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society.  It’s a scientific conference attended by fisheries biologists from the public and private sectors, but they let in me as well.  One of the day long tracks on Thursday had to do with Klamath Dam removal, the largest dam removal project in history.  Some of it was well over my head, like the talk titled “Responses of invertebrate hosts of salmon parasites to Klamath River flow events”, but there was a ton of useful information for anglers who treasure the Klamath Basin and look forward to what could be an improved fishing opportunity.  Last month I was on the Klamath River in California below the dams and was impressed by the number of winter steelhead I hooked.  If it can get even better it will be amazing.  Keep reading for a very brief summary of the dam removal project.

There are four dams slated for removal in 2023 and 2024.  JC Boyle in Oregon, and moving downstream, Copco 2, Copco 1, and Iron Gate dams in California.  The first dam on the Klamath River, Copco 1, was  built in 1918 (another presenter said 1920).  For over 100 years, no anadromous fish have been able to reach the upper river and the numerous historical spawning tributaries.

This year Copco 2 will be removed.  It is a small dam, only 35 feet high.  In 2024 the reservoirs behind the other dams will be drawn down from March 1 to July 1 and the dams will then be removed.  A minimum of five years of habitat restoration will follow.

The plans for draw down, removal, and restoration are complex.  Draw down includes saving fish that were in the reservoirs behind the dams, storing them, and eventually returning them to the river when it is safe to do so.  Removal plans include building and improving roads and bridges to access the dams with the necessary equipment followed by dam removal including dam materials.  As a presenter said, it’s not simply dynamite and bulldozers.

The restoration plans were impressive.  Sediment loads will be removed or stabilized in the main stem of the river and at the mouths of tributaries.  Large wood placement will be made in the mainstem.  Native plants will be seeded and planted in areas that were previously submerged.  Spawning habitat will be restored.

It’s a massive project but one that should be equally beneficial.  Learn more by visiting the Klamath River Renewal Corporation web site and the restoration plans site.