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World’s Largest Dam Removal Project Under Way in the PNW

World’s Largest Dam Removal Project Under Way in the PNW

On January 11, 2024, the largest dam removal project in the world began!

After more than 100 years, the water of the Pacific Northwest’s mighty Klamath River will, once again, flow freely!

Continue reading this article to discover how the project came to be, find out which of the Kalmath’s dams the removal includes, and what the lasting benefits are for the river’s fish populations.

A scenic view of the Klamath River rapids

The Klamath River, trailing over 250 miles between Oregon and Northwestern California, was once one of the Pacific Northwest’s top-producing salmon and steelhead rivers.

The river was teeming with both chinooks, cohos, and steelhead, providing the indigenous tribal groups living in the river basin with food.

Unfortunately, all that ended abruptly in 1911, when PacifiCorp started constructing its hydroelectrical dams along the Klamath.

Since then, these dams have blocked the migration routes and spawning habitats of salmon and steelhead.

Additionally, the dams create water quality issues such as toxic algae growth, high temperatures, and low oxygen levels.

In other words, the Kalmath’s hydroelectric dams have been a deadly hazard for the river’s wild fish populations!

So, things needed to change, and now, thankfully, they are about to do just that.

How the Klamath Dam Removal Project Came to Be

The Klamath near Highway 96 (image by PGHolbrook – CC BY-SA 3.0)

A few oldtimers still remember the Klamath’s epic salmon and steelhead runs from before the dams were built. 

Maybe those tales and memories led to the campaign to take down the Klamath dams, or perhaps the devastating fish kill of 2002, which resulted in the death of tens of thousands of adult salmon, finally made people realize that enough is enough! 

Either way, about 13 years ago, a dedicated alliance between four river tribes, commercial fishermen and recreational anglers, scientists, environmentalists, and state officials took matters into their own hands and started the historic campaign. 

It was a long fight, but in the end, the group got what they wanted, and now, after all those years, 4 of the 6 Klamath dams are finally being removed!

Which of the Klamath Dams Are Going Down?

All in all, four of the river’s six dams are being removed. While three of them are slated to begin removal in January 2024, a.k.a. right now, one of them, Copco No. 2, was already entirely removed in October 2023.  

The remaining dams that are scheduled for removal during 2024 are Copco No. 1, J.C. Boyle, and Iron Gate. 

In fact, the work on J.C. Boyle has already commenced.

A few days ago, on January 17, the dam was punctured for the very first time! (see video below)

The dam’s removal will start in the spring of 2024, and the deconstruction of it shall be finished by the fall of 2024. 

How Will This Project Benefit the River’s Wild Fish Populations?

Klamath River juvenile chinook salmon monitoring

So, how exactly will this help the Klamath’s salmon and steelhead? 

Well, dam removals hold huge benefits for the wildlife and ecosystem of a river. 

Washington’s Elwha River is an excellent example here! Ten years after the last dam came down, the local tribe could see its first fishery on the river in many years. 

Additionally, vast amounts of wild coho salmon appear to find their way back upstream. 

In 2019, only five years after the Elwha dam removal project was completed, chinook numbers were the highest in nearly three decades!

This shows that projects such as this can literally bring a dying river back to life! 

Coho salmon and steelhead migrating upstream

Not only does it allow wild fish to, once again, freely migrate upstream and spawn in much greater numbers, it can also reverse ecological effects and restore the balance of the river’s ecosystem.

This, in turn, can increase the survival rate of the juvenile fish hatching in the river, leading to greater future returns.

Parallel to the ongoing dam removals, there are also large-scale revegetation and spawning habitat restoration projects on the way, which can further help recover the Kalmath’s wild salmon and steelhead populations. 

The healthier the river will become, and the more its fish populations will grow, the more benefits there will be to local communities and tribes, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, and local tourism! 

Finally, the ecological downward spiral of this beautiful and mighty river has been turned upward. 

Hopefully, the Klamath and its wild fish populations will slowly return to their former glory!

I also hope the Klamath River dam removal project will serve as an example and inspire many more such projects all over the US! 

All those river systems and the fish they hold need our attention and deserve our help and respect. 

We should all try to do as much as possible to make such amazing projects happen on our local rivers. 

We, as anglers and human beings, owe them that much!

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  1. Lawrence Augustine Gonzi says:

    Thank you all that you do. I pray that the politicians do not put a halt to all this wonderful progress.