Restoring the Klamath River Salmon

Restoring the Klamath River Salmon

The Klamath River was once home to one of the most robust salmon runs in the western U.S. Since the first dam was erected in 1908, the salmon and steelhead have borne the brunt of water disputes in the region. The impact of the dams and other water uses in the Klamath valley closed salmon fishing along 700 miles of the Oregon‐California coast.

In August 2006, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and 11 other conservation groups requested that PacifiCorp, the energy provider that owns the four lower dams on California’s Klamath River, remove the dams. This initiative was sparked by PacifiCorp’s application for renewal of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permits for the dams.

Beginning in 2006, 29 organizations, agencies and tribal councils engaged in discussions to remove the four most seaward dams on the Klamath River that block salmon and steelhead runs. The group, comprised of electric utilities, state and federal government agencies, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, farmers, native tribes and environmental groups, worked in mediated sessions under a confidentially agreement in an effort to find a way to remove the four dams.

The Outcome

In November 2008, PacifiCorp agreed to decommission and remove the dams. On September 30, 2009, the 29 parties in the confidential discussions signed a draft agreement regarding the dams’ removal. In Feb. 2010, the Department of the Interior (DOI) signed the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, along with many other stakeholders. The parties who negotiated and ultimately signed the agreement, including dam owner PacifiCorp, asked the Secretary of the Interior to be the final decision maker on whether to proceed with dam removal. The governors of Oregon and California also must concur with the Secretary if he decides to remove the dams.

Under the agreement, the DOI agreed that before a decision on the dams could be made, that it would conduct additional studies to fill important data gaps and conduct a robust environmental analysis. Both the science and data have been collected and were recently summarized into an overview report. These studies and the Draft overview report are available on  The DOI issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) report in fall 2011 and is currently reviewing public comments for the creation of the final EIS.

As part of the agreement, a number of conditions need to be met before the dams are removed. On top of the additional studies that are required, Congress must enact legislation authorizing a Secretarial Determination. Legislation was introduced last fall in the House by Rep. Mike Thompson (CA) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR). In addition, Oregon and California must identify how they would pay for their share of dam removal costs. Oregon has done so; California has not done so yet.

This historic agreement will open up more than 300 miles of habitat for Klamath salmon and steelhead populations and eliminate water quality problems caused by the dams’ reservoirs in a river that was once the nation’s third-largest salmon producer.

The Sportfishing Industry’s Position

ASA supported the efforts of the California and Oregon state governments, the federal government and other affected parties to reach an equitable settlement that will both restore the river and protect the interests of PacifiCorp and its ratepayers.

Although agricultural interests withdraw water further upstream of these dams, these four dams are not used for agricultural withdrawals.

Background Information

The Klamath River extends from Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon to the Pacific Ocean in California. It is the third largest river in the western United States and was once the third most productive river for Pacific salmon.

The electric company PacifiCorp owns the four most seaward Klamath River dams. The 50-year FERC licenses for these dams – Iron Gate, Copco 1 and 2, and J.C. Boyle – expired in 2006 and PacifiCorp applied for renewal of all four. During the application process, California, Oregon and the federal government worked with PacifiCorp and other settlement partners to try to come to an agreement that would allow for the decommissioning and eventual removal of the dams while fairly accommodating the needs of PacifiCorp and its rate payers. Decommissioning and removal is the best option for the future of this river system and its fisheries.

The dams completely block access to over three hundred miles of salmon spawning grounds in the Klamath River. As a result, the Klamath Coho salmon is listed as threatened and the Chinook salmon is subject to very severe harvest restrictions. These restrictions have had severe economic and social repercussions along the coastal areas and for the tribes that have treaty rights to a portion of the fishery. In 2006, the commercial salmon harvest in California and Oregon was so severely restricted that the resulting economic hardship prompted U. S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gutierrez to declare a Commercial Fishery Failure. Unless measures are taken to allow more fish spawning access, the remaining salmon populations will continue to struggle to survive.