State Water Board Issues Klamath River Dam Removal Permit

Photo: Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River in California. Photo by Dan Bacher. | 

By Dan Bacher | 

Sacramento - California today reached a major milestone in the long campaign by Tribes, fishermen and conservationists to remove four Klamath River dams.

The Water Resources Control Board issued key documents that move the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) “significantly closer” to removing four dams and re-opening 360 miles of the Klamath River and its tributaries to imperiled salmon and steelhead.
“The board issued a Final Water Quality Certification permit and Final Environmental Impact Report,” the board stated in a press release. “The permit conditions will become part of the broader Lower Klamath Project License Surrender Order that must be issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) before the dams can be decommissioned and removed.”
One of the largest dam-removal efforts in U.S. history, the project primarily consists of removing three dams in northern California (Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, and Iron Gate) and one in southern Oregon (J.C. Boyle), according to the board.
“The State Water Board action comes after an extensive process that began with the KRRC’s application for a Water Quality Certification in 2016. The process involved numerous public meetings in the project area and resulted in adoption of an environmental impact report that considered and responded to more than 2,600 comments,” the board stated.
“Decades in the making, this historic and comprehensive project will help restore native fish populations, and improve water quality in the Klamath Basin,” said State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel. “The strategic removal of aging dams contributes to the restoration of our watersheds and reconnects our landscapes and ecosystems in critical ways. This major restoration project that began in 2008 to remove the dams is now one step closer to becoming a reality.”
As analyzed in the State Water Board’s Environmental Impact Report, “long-term water quality benefits of dam removal include a more-natural range of water temperatures, reduced fish disease, and elimination or reduction of the growth of the toxic blue-green algae that threatens the health of humans, animals, and fish.”
The project incorporates portions of the 2010 Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, a collaboration that includes the owner of the dams (PacifiCorp), tribes, federal, state and local agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and conservation and fishing groups.
The board said PacifiCorp is asking FERC to transfer ownership to the nonprofit KRRC, which was formed in 2016 to carry out the dam-removal project.
“The State Water Board supports efforts to improve the Klamath River watershed, but it is not a party to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. California’s Natural Resources Agency and Department of Fish and Wildlife signed the document as representatives of the state,” according to the board.
The water board said its regulatory role in this process as the state agency responsible for implementing the Clean Water Act is “limited to protection of water quality.”  
“For the Tribes, fishing, conservation and other groups working to restore water quality and fisheries, this is a moment to celebrate,” according to a joint statement from the Yurok Tribe, Karuk Tribe and Trout Unlimited. “We are one step closer to reconnecting the Upper and Lower Klamath River Basins!”
“We are now anxiously waiting for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to issue the final approval to transfer ownership of the dams to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, then approve the removal plan,” they said. 
Transfer and removal plans have already been submitted to FERC. See for details.  
“This represents another milestone in our decades long effort to remove dams and restore our fishery,” said Frankie Myers, Vice Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “Fishing closures in recent years have been devastating for the Yurok People. Working with PacifiCorp, we have found a way to remove dams, restore our river, and dramatically improve water quality,”
“We appreciate California’s leadership in protecting our fisheries and water quality. Dam removal is a key step in reconnecting Klamath Basin economies and cultures,” said Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery, Chairman, Karuk Tribe.
“We are proud to work with Klamath communities from the coast to the cascade mountains to restore the Klamath River. We appreciate California’s leadership in advancing the biggest salmon restoration project in the nation,” said Brian Johnson, California Director of Trout Unlimited.
I will post more responses to the issuing of the permit by Tribes, fishing groups and others as I receive them.

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