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Federal agency recommends removal of four lower Klamath River Dams

Friday’s environmental impact statement recommends the largest dam removal project in U.S. history to improve the environment and help restore endangered salmon populations.

(CN) — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a final Environmental Impact Statement on Friday recommending the removal of the four lower Klamath River Dams along the border of Oregon and California. The dam removal project will be the largest such project in U.S. history second to the 2012 removal of the Elwha Dam on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

“Restoring the impounded reaches to a free-flowing river would have significant beneficial effect on restoring salmon runs, access to traditional foods, Tribal cultural practices, and a characteristic fluvial landscape,” read the environmental impact statement.

Additionally, dam removal is expected to improve water quality and fisheries along with terrestrial and aquatic resources used by nearby Tribes. “These benefits would aid in the continuation and restoration of Tribal practices and traditions that have been adversely affected.”

“It has been more than a century since our people have seen c’iyaals (salmon) in our rivers and streams,” said Klamath Tribes’ Chairman Clayton Dumont in statement. “So FERC’s quick pace completing the comprehensive review of dam removals will be sweet news for our community,”

According to the Yurok and Karuk press release, the final draft comes nearly 20 years after a massive fish kill that left over 60,000 salmon rotting along the banks of the Klamath River in 2002, leaving salmon returns less than 5% of its historical abundance by 2005.

“We applaud the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff for issuing the final EIS ahead of schedule and for validating license surrender and dam removal as the right thing to do,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham in statement. “While we continue to review the document, we welcome this critical milestone and look forward to advancing what will be the largest dam removal project in U.S. history and restoration of 400 miles of the Klamath River for the benefit of salmon, Tribes and communities in the basin.”

Friday’s announcement appears to have come early, as some did not expect the final draft until September.

“We expect to see the final EIS in September,” said Karuk Tribe natural resources consultant Craig Tucker on Aug. 24. “That puts us on the track of having dam removal activities in January.”

“We’re trying to make these fish hang in there,” said Tucker regarding the surviving populations affected by recent illegal water diversions in the Shasta River that decreased water flows by 37% and a wildfire-produced mudslide that killed tens of thousands of fish in a 60-mile reach of the Klamath River. “Even with dam removal on the main stem of the Klamath, we still need healthy tributaries. But relief is on the way for these fish.”

Five FERC commissioners will consider the final staff recommendations of the FEIS when they issue a final ruling on dam removal later this year. The project is estimated to cost about $500 million.

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