WASHINGTON, D.C. — Federal regulators on Thursday approved the transfer of four dams along the Klamath River from power company PacifiCorp to groups that are working to remove the dams and return the river to free-flowing conditions.
The push to remove the J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1 & 2, and Iron Gate dams has been in the works for years, with proponents of removal eventually gaining agreement in 2010 with PacifiCorp, mapping out the plan to transfer control.
Those efforts hit a snag in July of 2020, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) stipulated that it would only approve the project if PacifiCorp remained a co-licensee, taking a share of any potential liability.
The Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), which represents supporters of the removal project, went back to the drawing board. By November of 2020, they'd re-emerged with buy-in from the governors of Oregon and California, who agreed to take on the mantle of co-licensees in order to free PacifiCorp from the arrangement.
With that, the proposal went back to the FERC for another look.
On Thursday, the FERC approved transfer of the license on all four dams from PacifiCorp to KRRC and the supporting states, signaling a major milestone for the project.
“This is a crucial and significant step forward in accomplishing KRRC’s core mission to remove the four lower Klamath dams and restore a free-flowing river,” said Jim Root, president of the KRRC Board. Root noted that the KRRC project will constitute the largest dam removal and river recovery effort in US history. “I am deeply appreciative to all of the parties who have supported this project over the years, and I wish to especially note the significant and sustained efforts of our Tribal partners.”
“The FERC decision today respects PacifiCorp’s business decision to transfer its license for the four aging Klamath River dams," Senator Ron Wyden said in a statement. "These dams are not operated for flood control and provide no irrigation benefits. This is a critical step in restoring an iconic river system in a way that improves and reconnects habitat for fish and wildlife, acknowledges Tribal treaty obligations, protects power customers, and relieves pressure on upstream farmers and ranchers.”
The KRRC said that it plans to begin removal of the dams in 2023, although further regulatory approvals will be needed before the process can go forward.