(CN) — A federal agency transferred a hydroelectric license from an energy company to a nonprofit on Friday, marking the latest step toward removing four dams from the Klamath River and restoring access for endangered salmon.
The Federal Regulatory Agency Commission transferred a license from PacifiCorp, a Warren Buffet-backed energy company to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, paving the way for the most significant dam removal project in the American West.
The dams are all in the Klamath River Basin that straddles the border between California and Oregon.
“Since 2016, PacifiCorp, along with a coalition of state and federal agencies, Tribes, the states of Oregon and California, and other stakeholders, have worked together to propose surrender of the project license, which includes a plan to decommission the four dams on the Klamath River that comprise the Project,” FERC said in a news release issued Thursday. “Today’s transfer is another important step in the ongoing surrender proceeding.”
The move came the same day that the state of California recognized Klamath Spring Salmon as a biologically distinct species and added to a list that signifies it is worthy of protection. The Karuk and Yurok Tribes, which are native to the Klamath River Basin, hailed the move as the dam removal and listing of Klamath salmon figure to help the species recover.
“We are elated that the Commission recognized the unique characteristics, cultural importance and true peril of Klamath River Spring Chinook,” said Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC) director Karuna Greenberg on Thursday. “Tribes and grassroots activists have worked tirelessly for decades to preserve this iconic fish, and now we have a better chance at accomplishing that goal.”
But the move also came amid a terrible drought in the region, which has made conditions in the river in terms of water quality, water flows and temperatures the worst it’s been in years.
“What Klamath Basin communities are facing right now is the definition of a disaster,” said Frankie Myers, the Yurok Tribe’s Vice Chairman, in a May press release. “Substantial water shortages are a long-predicted symptom of climate change.”
But the tribes also believe dam removal is the only chance to restore salmon to their ancient waters and help the population balloon once again.
California Congressman Jared Huffman, a Democrat from the North Coast, said the dam removal project was necessary for ecological and social justice reasons.
“The four dams on the Klamath River produce a marginal amount of electricity, and their reservoirs superheat water and experience dangerous algal blooms every summer,” Huffman said in a statement Thursday. “They provide no flood control or water supply. Years of study show that removal of the dams are in the public interest and will lead to significantly better conditions on the river.”
The congressman also said the dam removal will ring in “a new era that recognizes the injustices of the past and invests in the future.”
The dams were built before the implementation of modern-day environmental regulations and limited the amount of river that salmon could navigate during the spawning phase of their life. Some estimates say the salmon native to the river have watched their population dwindle by as much as 92% from historical levels.
The removal project is slated for January of 2023 and will be closely watched in the American West as a precedent for other possible dam removal projects along the Pacific Coast.
The project is estimated to cost about $500 million.
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