Prep Begins for Klamath River Dam Removal
According to reports, construction preparation to remove the Klamath River dams is anticipated to begin later this month, with all four dams scheduled to be removed before the end of 2024.
“That dam and all the facilities associated with Copco 2 at that location should effectively be out of the river no later than September or early October of this year,” said Mark Bransom, CEO of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation.
The $450 million demolition is part of a settlement agreement nearly 15 years in the making by the states, national tribes and utility companies to remove the dams and address fish populations and river health. The project is anticipated to be the largest dam removal project in United States 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.
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.
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-Record, the project is a record-size venture in the United States, and nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corp. (KRRC) spokesperson Matt Cox called the dam removal the largest in the country’s history.
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.
Construction to remove the Klamath River dams will start this month and all four dams are scheduled to be removed from the river by the end of 2024.https://t.co/JkU1yXUUl4— NewsWatch 12 (@KDRV) March 8, 2023
In August 2019, according to a filing with FERC, KRRC 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.
Bransom stated that he was confident the KRRC had the proper funding for the job. Regarding an estimate from that time, $434 million showed to be well within the $450 million budget, which included $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 proposed 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.
According to KRRC, the Surrender Application included the group’s detailed plan for facilities removal and restoration of the project footprint.
In February last 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 would 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.
The following month, FERC 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 stated that the Iron Gate Dam would be the first of the four dams to be removed.
Then, in April,, the U.S. Interior Department and FERC announced 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 that it “carefully considers the potential environmental effects of [the] proposed action.” Additionally, the department said it would approve the removal with “moderate modifications.”
At the end of August, FERC 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.
In November, FERC gave its final approval to remove four dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon, allowing what will be the largest dam removal project in the nation to move forward. The final ruling approved the surrender of the Lower Klamath Project license and the proposed removal of the four aging structures.
According to PacifiCorp’s release at the time, parties led by the KRRC will take several pre-construction steps during 2023 to lay the groundwork for the project, following the formal acceptance of the license transfer by the states and KRRC. The approval sets a 30-day timeline for the states and KRRC to approve the transfer, but Bransom anticipates that this will only take a couple weeks.
The Los Angeles Times reported that funding for the project will primarily come from California’s Proposition 1 water bond and from PacifiCorp. Bransom said it would cost more for the company to upgrade the facilities to today’s standards than to enter into the agreement.
PacifiCorp will reportedly continue to operate the dams until the demolition begins. However, company spokesman Bob Gravely told reporters that while the dams have a capacity of 163 megawatts, they only typically run about half that amount due in part to low river levels. They also represent less than 2% of PacifiCorp’s overall generation, noting it won’t be difficult to replace through renewables and other sources.
KRRC is reportedly leading the construction project, beginning preparation work this month. Construction on the dams is anticipated to begin this summer with Copco 2. Bransom told reporters that the remaining three dams will be removed by the end of 2024.
According to reports, removing all four dams is expected to result in immediate environmental impacts. KRRC adds that it is working with experts to monitor those inevitable impacts the river will see in the coming years.
“We want to wait a little while to allow the river to sort of find its course again,” Bransom said. “Then we'll come in and add a light touch where it's appropriate to do so with some restoration that we believe will be beneficial, primarily for habitat and passage conditions for migrating fish.”
In addition to the largest dam removal project, the undertaking has also reportedly been called the largest river restoration project in American history. Restoration contractor Resource Environmental Solutions and area tribes will reportedly plant up to 19 billion seeds as the dams are removed and the reservoirs are drained.
The planting design includes 96 different species, with plants such as yampah and lomatium, important pollinator species like milkweed, and tens of thousands of oak trees. In total, RES reportedly aims to plant 250,000 trees and shrubs and 40,000 to 60,000 pounds of seed—enough to plant the reservoirs twice.
"We're really trying to create conditions that are more favorable than those that exist today to support a more healthy environment for all the communities that rely on the river," Bransom said.
Also, at the end of last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced $15 million in funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law for ecosystem restoration activities. Currently seeking pre-proposals, the efforts aim to restore habitat, control invasive species, conserve at-risk and listed species, improve habitat connectivity for aquatic species, address water quality and quantity issues, and support projects that will help improve conditions for native species.
Proposals must be submitted prior to April 14.