Federal energy regulator gives final go-ahead for historic Klamath dam removal plan

KLAMATH RIVER BASIN, California and Oregon — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave its final approval Thursday for a plan to remove four dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon. 

The order paves the way for enactment of a settlement agreement nearly 15 years in the making by California, Oregon, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, Berkshire Hathaway Energy-owned utility company PacifiCorp, fishing groups, and other stakeholders to carry out the ambitious plan to remove dams, and address fish populations, river health and Tribal communities and cultures.

In its ruling, FERC commissioners found “surrender of the Lower Klamath Project license and removal of the project to be in the public interest and grant the Renewal Corporation’s surrender application, subject to terms and conditions and acceptance of the license transfer.”

The approval of the dam removal plan provides the final ruling from the federal regulator needed for parties to fully implement the Amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement as signed in 2016. In June 2021, FERC approved allowing dam owner PacifiCorp to be removed from the license for the hydroelectric project and transfer it to the states of California and Oregon and the nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) as co-licensees to carry out removal of the dams pending final sign-off on the dam removal plan.

Following formal acceptance of the license transfer by the states and the KRRC, parties led by the KRRC will take a number of pre-construction steps during 2023 to lay the groundwork to complete removal of the dams. The Copco No. 2 dam will be removed as soon as the summer of 2023 under the approved plan, with removal of J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1 and Iron Gate dams planned during 2024. The four dams are located in Klamath County, Oregon and Siskiyou County, California.

Settlement party statements

“Today’s action culminates more than a decade of work to revitalize the Klamath River and its vital role in the tribal communities, cultures and livelihoods sustained by it. California is grateful for the partnership of Oregon, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, Berkshire Hathaway and the many other stakeholders who came together to make this transformative effort a reality for the generations to come.”
– California Governor Gavin Newsom

“This enormous step forward will make historic progress in revitalizing the Klamath River, which is vital to the sustainability of all communities in the Klamath Basin. Beyond ecological restoration, this is also an act of restorative justice. Since time immemorial, the Indigenous peoples of the Klamath Basin have preserved the lands, waters, fish, and wildlife of this treasured region — and this project will not only improve its water and fish habitat, but also boost our economy,” said Governor Kate Brown. “I am grateful for the hard work and perseverance of the region’s tribes, and the partnership of California, who have come together for many years to make this possible.”
– Oregon Governor Kate Brown

“The Klamath salmon are coming home. The people have earned this victory and with it, we carry on our sacred duty to the fish that have sustained our people since the beginning of time.” 
 Yurok Chairman Joseph James

“Today’s victory was well earned by the thousands of people who fought for clean water, healthy fisheries, and environmental justice for Klamath River communities. I am grateful to everyone, from the youth to the elders, Governors Newsom and Brown, and the team from PacifiCorp who made this victory possible.”
– Karuk Chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery

“Today’s ruling is a major achievement for everyone who developed and helped advance this historic agreement over many years. I want to wholeheartedly thank the leadership of Yurok and Karuk tribes, Governors Newsom and Brown and their predecessors, and all of our partners who remained committed to resolving this complex and difficult issue through settlement."
– PacifiCorp President and CEO Stefan Bird

"This is an incredible milestone and key step forward on the path to accomplishing KRRC's core mission to remove the four lower Klamath dams. Today's decision is the culmination of decades of collective work by our many dedicated partners and relentless champions of a restored Klamath River to reconnect a basin that had been cut in half for more than a century."
– KRRC Board President Brian Johnson