by Kara Glenwright, CalTrout Communications Associate
Mark Bransom is the CEO of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation.
By late fall of 2024, all four of the Klamath River dams are expected to be removed. In the meantime, there’s lots of work to prepare for dam removal and the massive impacts it will have.
“I believe that [through dam removal] we are making an effort to create conditions that allow both salmonids and human communities to regain a toehold in this amazing watershed,” Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) Chief Executive Officer Mark Bransom said. “We are making an effort to restore some balance by creating conditions that acknowledge the world we’re living in today is not likely to be the same world that we’re living in tomorrow.”
The Klamath River Renewal Corporation is the nonprofit corporation formed as an outcome of the amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. The settlement agreement, amended in 2016, called for the formation of a dam removal entity that would be responsible for obtaining all necessary permits and completing legal, administrative, and technical work in anticipation of decommissioning the project, taking ownership of the project, and then decommissioning the project. CalTrout was deeply involved in the negotiations that led to this settlement, which turned the idea of dam removal into a fully funded project.
In the world of dam removal and environmental restoration projects, there is very little precedent for a settlement agreement that calls for the formation of a nonprofit corporation, Bransom acknowledged. However, the formation of KRRC created an entity with funding and the capacity to build a staff to pursue all necessary permits, relieving the states, Tribes, and conservation community of those responsibilities.
There are limitations to a nonprofit corporation’s abilities, and as such KRRC relies heavily on its partners to advocate through certain avenues to continue to move things along. “We’ve enjoyed this tremendous working relationship with the Settlement Agreement partners,” Bransom said. “I never miss an opportunity to say that the Renewal Corporation is standing on the shoulders of the Tribes, the conservation community, and all others who have been fighting the good fight for so long.”
KRRC and CalTrout enjoy a particularly good working relationship, Bransom added. CalTrout played a formative role among members of the conservation community leading up to the Settlement Agreement, and CalTrout continues to work closely with KRRC to advocate for the project and to leverage dam removal towards restoration work in tributaries including the Shasta and Scott rivers.
On November 17, 2022, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a surrender order, initiating the license transfer process to KRRC and the states of California and Oregon. KRRC and the states accepted the license transfer on December 1, 2022, and the three entities are now co-licensees. Bransom expects that construction projects will begin by late winter or early spring of 2023.
“We have about eight or nine months of enabling construction projects that need to be done to prepare us to draw down the reservoirs before we then remove the dams,” Bransom said. These projects include road and bridge improvements, relocation of a waterline, relocation of hatchery operations, dam modifications, and the planned removal of Copco #2 dam in July 2023. Bransom anticipates drawdown of the reservoirs to begin in early January 2024 and to wrap up around May 2024. Physical dam removal will immediately follow the drawdown.
“By the late fall of 2024, we should have all of the dams removed and will have re-established a free-flowing condition in the mainstem through the entire hydroelectric reach,” Bransom said.
Towards the end of 2024, revegetation and restoration work will begin, extending into 2025 and beyond. Approximately 2,500 acres surrounding the river will receive some form of restoration work, primarily revegetation. Contractors have been busy collecting seeds and propagating thousands of plants in anticipation of the revegetation effort. For the restoration work, KRRC plans to take an adaptive management approach.
“We want to allow the river to reestablish itself and find its course over the period following dam removal,” Bransom said. As they watch the mainstem of the channel take shape, KRRC will determine what restoration or habitat improvement work, if any, might be beneficial. Throughout the process, KRRC will monitor sediment transport and deposition, specifically looking at critical tributaries to ensure their connectivity to the mainstem remains intact.
The dam removal project is important not only for the many fish and wildlife species that rely on a healthy Klamath River, but also for the many human communities that rely on a healthy river.
“At its very essence, this project is about salmon restoration. But more broadly, it’s a resiliency project. We are creating conditions that will restore balance and allow dependent communities of all kinds to better connect to the river. Cultural and social restoration is no more or less important than the other forms of resiliency building, restoration, and recovery that we are attempting here,” Bransom said. “I’m very optimistic that, with time, the dam removal and restoration work will lead to much improved conditions.”