The Klamath River Watershed encompasses 15,688 square miles and historically, over 800,000 Chinook salmon returned to the Klamath River to spawn each year — making it the third most-productive west coast river behind the Columbia and Sacramento.
The river runs approximately 263 miles from its origins in south-central Oregon and north-central California to its mouth near Requa, California and receives water from 13 sub-basins located in Oregon and California, including the spring-fed Shasta River.
Today, the Coho salmon are listed under the Endangered Species Act, and Chinook salmon runs have declined by over 90%, leading to canceled west coast commercial and sport salmon fishing seasons.
Hydropower dams block passage to over 400 miles of the upper watershed. Limited water resources and badly impaired water quality also play havoc with fish populations.
Fortunately, the four lowest Klamath River dams may be removed as part of the Klamath Settlement Agreements (KBRA), which also include funding for habitat restoration in the Klamath Basin.
Dam Removal Decisions
A decision on dam removal will take place in March of 2012, and while there is a narrow group of users voicing vocal opposition, the best arguments for dam removal are the economics of keeping the dams.
After undergoing a projected $450 million retrofit, the four privately owned dams would operation at a $20 million annual loss.
By contrast, PacifiCorp’s liability if the dams are removed is only $200 million (the rest of the estimated $247-$297 million cost supplied by state and federal governments).
With Chinook salmon populations forecast to increase by 80+% if the KBRA is instituted, it seems clear the four lower Klamath River dams will come out — provided the legislation isn’t killed in congress.
To see the latest news on Klamath River dam removal, click here.
Related Projects: Klamath Dam Removal