Pacific Salmon Will Regain Access to Hundreds of Miles of Spawning Grounds as Historic Dam Removal Gets Green Light

It’s been twenty years of advocacy and legal challenges, but the decision was made to carry out the largest dam removal in history to return the Klamath River in California to its natural state.

Led by the Yurok, Klamath, and Karuk tribal nations, the demolition of four hydroelectric dams will allow wild salmon from the Pacific to run upstream and spawn again as they haven’t done for 100 years.

Last Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a license to allow the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) to decommission and remove the four dams and implement related restoration activities.

These four dams deny salmon access to hundreds of miles of historical habitat, degrade water quality, and foster the spread of fish diseases. Scientific studies and dam removal efforts in other watersheds demonstrate that removing dams can reverse these trends.

Demolition work is expected to begin next year, promising not only the return to ancestral ways of life for the various tribes on the Klamath River, but a robust increase in commercial salmon fishing.

“The Klamath salmon are coming home,” proclaimed Yurok Chairman Joseph James. “The people have earned this victory and with it, we carry on our sacred duty to the fish that have sustained our people since the beginning of time.”

Today’s Klamath River salmon returns are less than 5% of their historical abundance with some runs of salmon completely eliminated by the dams. Potential production increases for fisheries, who were involved in the efforts to remove the dams, could be 10x-20x over the long run.

Upstream of the dams, the Karuk, the Yurok, and California, the Klamath Tribes of Oregon are eager to see salmon return.

“Our people have been without c’iyaals (salmon) for over a century. We welcome the fish home to the Upper Klamath Basin with open arms,” said Klamath Tribes Chairman Clayton Dumont.

The demolition is slated to be finished by the end of 2024 using funding from PacifiCorp, the Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary company that manages the dams, and a California bond measure.