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Klamath Dam Removal Project Gets DOI Approval

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 27, 2022


According to recent reports, the U.S. Interior Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have given their support for the removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in Oregon and California. Set to become the largest dam removal project in the country, the $445 million project has been in planning for more than a decade.

“Removal of the Klamath Dams would be a historic undertaking and has received widespread attention due to the project’s magnitude and complexity,” wrote the Congressional Research Service in a report last month. “Never before have so many large dams been removed from a single river at one time in the United States. Many are interested in the project as a proof-of-concept for other major dam removals.”

Project Background

The purpose of the removal of the hydroelectric dams is to allow the body of water to flow freely with fish passages that are also planned to be restored. As reported by Engineering News-Recordthe project is a record-size venture in the United States, adding that KRRC spokesperson Matt Cox called the dam removal the largest in the country’s history.

The J.C. Boyle dam, located in Oregon, and dams Copco I, Copco II and Iron Gate, located in California, were all built between 1918 and 1962. Collectively, the dams can generate up to 43 MW of hydroelectric power.

Kiewit won the contract over Granite Construction and Barnard Construction at the end of April, and was chosen using a stepped design-build plan—one that implements a selection process based on working toward a design/contract price.

Design and permitting support, among other responsibilities, are part of the first phase of work, to be followed by final design and construction, as well as land restoration in the second phase. Moving forward, the FERC needs to see that the KRRC has the capacity to do the work by submitting plans to the federal agency. Following that, FERC must approve transferring the dam’s license from utility owner PacifiCorp to the KRRC.

The saga of the dam removal dates back to 2004, when PacifiCorp wanted to relicense the dams before transferring ownership. A 2016 utility agreement with regulators and stakeholders from both states regarding environmental conditions prompted the dam removal.

In 2019, according to a filing with FERC, Klamath River Renewal Corp. updated the cost and the timeline for the removal of the four hydroelectric dams. The 1,333-page report indicated that the cost for the project is just under $434 million (previously estimated to cost $400 million) and, at the time, was slated to occur by 2022. However, Kiewit Infrastructure West was still working to announce a Guaranteed Maximum Price by January 2020.

Before the project can officially move forward, regulators needed to consider whether the dams’ operating license be transferred from PacifiCorp to KRRC. Prior to the possible transfer however, the KRRC had to prove to an independent board of consultants—made up of six members appointed by the federal government—that it has proper money arrangements, insurance and contingency for its proposal.

Mark Bransom, KRRC executive director, stated that he is confident the KRRC has the proper funding for the job. Regarding the latest estimate, $434 million shows to be well within the $450 million budget, which includes $62 million slated for unanticipated costs and $16 million left over in cash reserves.

At the time, funding for the removal project was received primarily from PacifiCorp ratepayers, contributing $200 million, about another $250 million from California Proposition 1 and a $7.5 billion statewide water bond that was passed in 2014.

KRRC hired Resource Environmental Solutions LLC for environmental mitigation, and is proposing a local impact mitigation fund so any potential damages can be filed through claims.

In July 2021, FERC approved the transfer of the Lower Klamath Project License from PacifiCorp to KRRC and the states of Oregon and California. The application was originally filed in 2016 as a joint application between the two organizations.

The approval allowed for KRRC to lead the effort to remove the four Klamath hydroelectric dams as the “dam removal entity” as called for the in 2010 Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement.

“Today’s order confirms that the Renewal Corporation has the ability, financially and otherwise, to undertake dam removal, and with the states, as co-licensees, the necessary legal and technical expertise required for such a huge undertaking,” wrote FERC in its release at the time. “The surrender application is still pending before the Commission and is awaiting further environmental review as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.  The Commission will continue to engage with all parties and stakeholders to ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate in the surrender proceeding.”

“The news from FERC is very positive and moves us forward on the long path to dam removal,” said Mark Bransom, the CEO of KRRC. “We must also secure FERC’s approval of our Surrender Application, but today’s decision by the Commissioners certainly boosts our optimism about the road ahead.”

According to KRRC, the Surrender Application includes the group’s detailed plan for facilities removal and restoration of the project footprint.

In February this year, the Department of the Interior announced that it had concluded a series of engagement sessions focused on addressing the drought crisis in the Klamath Basin.

“The transformative investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, collaboration with states, Tribes, and local governments, and the input from every impacted community will help us innovate in the face of adversity and restore balance to this river system,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “Together, we must work to respect Tribal treaty rights and trust resources, ensure predictable and sustainable water supplies, and restore this once abundant ecosystem for the benefit of all its inhabitants.”

As part of the law, the Klamath Basin ecosystem restoration will receive a $162 million investment, as an opportunity to support water resilience and infrastructure. These discussions covered path issues for the basin, dam removal, Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement implementation, hydrology issues, and project and National Wildlife Refuge water supply, as well as aquatic habitat, water quality priorities and water supply reliability.

According to the DOI, as part of coordination with Tribes on restoration activities established by the bipartisan infrastructure law, consultations were held with six Tribes within the basin. Following these virtual meetings, the department hosted several interactive meetings with federal and state officials, Tribes and local stakeholders.

Last month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the Klamath River Renewal project, including the surrender, decommissioning and removal of project works of the Lower Klamath Hydroelectric Project.

According to the release, FERC recommends approval of the KRRC’s License Surrender application, with the conclusion that “environmental and public benefits of the proposed action, with additional staff recommendations, would exceed those of the no-action alternative (status quo).”

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The deadline to comment on the draft EIS was April 18. KRRC reports that a final EIS expected by September this year.

“We are on the cusp of realizing a number of additional important and significant steps that will ultimately lead, we believe, to dam removal,” said Mark Bransom, Executive Director of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation. “Conditions in the basin have been extraordinarily difficult, but we plan on doing major efforts on drawdowns of reservoirs by 2023.

“No later than late spring of 2023 there will begin six to seven months of construction work to position for removal of the dams. The corporation is doing everything to complete the process.”

Reports state that the Iron Gate Dam will be the first of the four dams to be removed. 

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What’s Next

While the removal still awaits a federal Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the DOI has reviewed the FERC’s draft and reportedly said it was “thorough and robust,” adding “carefully considers the potential environmental effects of [the] proposed action.”

Additionally, the department said it would approve the removal with “moderate modifications.”

“The project has more momentum now. We’re optimistic and have a sense of inevitability,” Mark Bransom, CEO of the nonprofit, told Engineering News-Record.

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According to the report, if the FERC issues the final signoff as expect in September and the other permit is obtained, KRRC expects construction to begin in 2023. The full project design is also expected to be completed by June.

A design-build contract was signed in April 2019 with nonprofit Kiewit Infrastructure West, who was selected to remove the four dams. Bransom said that the contractor developed a provisional guaranteed maximum price of $190 million, with a final GMP not yet determined. ENR reports that the engineering subcontractor is civil Knight Piesold, and the project’s restoration contractor is Texas-based Resource Environmental Group.

In addition to the dam removal, the project will include restoration of 8,000 acres which are currently inundated by the dams and is expected to cost up to $100 million. The project is reportedly funded by $184 million in PacifiCorp utility surcharges in Oregon and $16 million in California, with $250 million in bond funding also from California.

“The recommendation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Comission to advance the dam removals sets a path for a more sustainably managed river — something we haven’t seen for more than a century. It won’t solve every problem in the Klamath Basin, but it bodes well for the future,” said California Rep. Jared Huffman, in a statement. “Klamath dam removal will be the largest salmon restoration project in history. Removing these obsolete dams will help restore iconic salmon without reducing water supply.”

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With comments due on April 18 for the FERC draft, Brandsom said most comments submitted to the commission were based on the misperception that the dams have controlled reservoirs. However, the Klamath “run of the river” dams are not used for water supply or irrigation and do not hold large quantities of water.

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Tagged categories: Demolition; Environmental Controls; Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); Government; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Locks and dams; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management


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