FERC Recommends Removing Klamath River Dam


At the end of last month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its final environmental impact statement regarding the Klamath River Renewal Project. The FERC also recommended approving the surrender of the dam license, as well as decommissioning and removing the dams with modifications and mandatory conditions.

Set to become the largest dam removal project in the country, the $445 million project has been in planning for more than a decade.

“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 H. Bonham in a 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.”

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 nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corp. 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 Infrastructure West won the contract over Granite Construction and Barnard Construction at the end of April 2019, 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 August 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 Bransom. “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.

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.

In March, 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 recommended 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).”

“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,” said Bransom at the time.

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

The following month, the U.S. Interior Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had given their support for the removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in Oregon and California. 

The DOI reviewed the FERC’s draft of the report and 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.”

EIS Approval, Restoration Funding

As part of the final statement, FERC has recommended approving the surrender of the dam license, decommissioning the dams and removing the structures. FERC reports that the primary issues associated with the surrender and removal of project works are:

  • Potential effects on aquatic biota, including Chinook salmon, Endangered Species Act-listed coho salmon and suckers, and other fish and wildlife species;
  • Adequacy of measures proposed to restore vegetation on formerly inundated lands; effects on riverine and reservoir-based recreation;
  • Effects on local property owners due to effects on waterfront access, wells, firefighting/prevention, slope stability, reservoir aesthetics, and property values, as well as effects on traffic, emergency response times, air quality, and noise during construction;
  • Effects of dewatering on culturally important sites and removal of historic project features; and
  • Socioeconomic effects on disadvantaged communities.  

According to FERC’s report, the Klamath River has declined in health since the dams were installed between 1903 and 1962. The EIS found that the project would protect environmental resources and the species that rely on them, such as the salmon in the river. Additionally, it would restore the landscape of the areas that are currently impounded within the project to reach a more natural state.

“Essentially what they've concluded is: out of all of the alternatives studied, dam removal is the most likely option to prevent extinction of the Klamath River salmon,” said Yurok Tribe member Amy Bowers Cordalis, who currently serves as the Tribe’s legal counsel.

“The Klamath River was historically the third largest salmon-producing river in the Lower 48, and we are down to under 5% of the historical size of the salmon runs. And that has rippling effects throughout our entire economy on the West Coast.”

The actual removal of the four dams is anticipated to begin in 2023 and end the following hear. However, before that, commissioners must approve the recommendation not to renew the dams’ licenses.

The week before the final EIS release, California Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein announced the Department of the Interior will provide nearly $26 million from the bipartisan infrastructure law for Klamath Basin restoration projects. Of that funding, nearly $16 million will go to ecosystem restoration and $10 million to expand the Klamath Falls National Fish Hatchery.

“Drought has reached almost every corner of California, wreaking havoc on the ecological balance of our state and threatening jobs and our way of life,” said Senator Padilla. “That’s why I proudly supported the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, so we could invest in resiliency across California. Restoring the Klamath Basin is critical for both the regional ecosystem and local economy.

“This is just the first investment in the Klamath Basin from the bipartisan infrastructure law, part of $162 million coming for regional ecological restoration over the next five years. This funding will be a game changer for water supply and fishery health in the years ahead.”

The full final EIS can be found here.


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

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