Left Coast Closes the Dam Lights

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From Science Matters

By Ron Clutz

The Klamath River flows by the remaining pieces of the Copco 2 Dam after deconstruction in June 2023. Juliet Grable / JPR

Triumphal headlines like this report the Klamath River news With one down, Klamath dam removal proceeds on schedule.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

Removing the Copco 2 Dam takes deconstruction crews one step closer
to drawdowns of the remaining three reservoirs next January.

The first of four hydroelectric dams along the Oregon-California border has been removed from the main stem of the Klamath River. All that remains of the dam known as Copco 2 in Siskiyou County, California, is the headworks of a diversion tunnel adjacent to the now free-flowing river.

When complete, the overall project will be the biggest dam removal in U.S. history and will reopen 400 miles of fish habitat that was cut off for more than a century.  Deconstruction activities on Copco 2 will continue until September. Getting this first dam out of the way takes deconstruction crews one step closer to drawdowns of the remaining three reservoirs next January.

From CBS News:    The project, estimated at nearly $450 million, would reshape the Klamath River and empty giant reservoirs, and could revive plummeting salmon populations by reopening habitat that has been blocked for more than a century.  The proposal fits into a trend in the U.S. toward dam demolition as these infrastructure projects age and become less economically viable. More than 1,700 dams have been dismantled nationwide since 2012.

The structures at the center of the debate are the four southernmost dams in a string of six constructed in southern Oregon and far northern California beginning in 1918. They were built for power generation, and none has “fish ladders,” concrete chutes fish can pass through.

Two dams to the north are not targeted for demolition. They have fish passage and are part of a massive irrigation system that straddles the Oregon-California border and provides water to more than 300 square miles (777 square kilometers) of crops.

Those farmers won’t be directly affected but worry the demolition will set a precedent.

Good for the Salmon and Indigenous Fishermen, but what about the Lost Power?

Congressmen LaMalfa and Bentz draw the practical implications of this action in their press release Klamath Dams are Engines of Energy and Economic Reliability   September 29, 2022

A statement highlighting the importance of hydropower energy in the West
and opposing the removal of the four Klamath hydroelectric dams.

Hydropower is the oldest source of renewable energy in the United States and accounts for nearly a third of total U.S. renewable electricity generation. Hydroelectric dams play a critical role in the resiliency of the West’s electrical grid, the preservation of our landscape, flood control, the creation of space for outdoor recreational activities, and many of these dams assist in the delivery of water to farms for agriculture production. Hydropower is a win for the environment, domestic energy production, and economic development in rural areas.

So why is hydropower under attack? Because some outlier environmental groups have claimed that dam removal is necessary for fish health, even though these dams provide stored water for fish in low water years and the needed cold water for fish in hot summers.

Residents in the Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon and Northern California know about this struggle because of the proposed Klamath River dam removal – the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. For decades, PacifiCorp (the owner of the dams), local municipalities, tribes, agriculture producers, and conservationists have gone back and forth arguing the benefits and drawbacks of the four Klamath Dams – Copco #1, Copco #2, Iron Gate, and J.C. Boyle.

Dam removal advocates claim the dams block salmon and steelhead spawning and rearing habitat in the Upper Basin, even though their only science is a questionable Master’s thesis. These advocates have conveniently avoided discussions of other factors that have caused salmon and steelhead populations to decline, such as overfishing, pollution from forest fires, a marginal population in a warm river, and disease.

They irresponsibly ignore the immense amount of sediment behind each dam, and how releasing it will impact water quality and river health, including the years long decimation of the very salmon runs they claim to want to protect. Nor have they considered how dam removal will affect other wildlife species who reside near the river and in the reservoirs, such as Canada Geese, sandpipers, Western Pond Turtles, and crayfish. It is essential that the conversation regarding dam removal consider the big picture, how this action will affect the Basin’s entire ecosystem and the people who live there, rather than base solutions solely on hypothetical scenarios for salmon.

Those who support keeping the dams know the true benefits they bring to the area. The Klamath River Hydroelectric Project generates, annually, enough low-cost, reliable power for 70,000 households. The dams provide good-paying, technical jobs and are the largest single private taxpayer in the county of Siskiyou. The reservoirs created by each dam are critical to the area’s firefighting efforts, ground water recharge, pulse flows for clearing debris, and flood control.

Removing hydroelectric dams from our energy grid will drive up energy costs,
decimate local jobs, and increase dependency on oil and natural gas
– something both California and Oregon have opposed.

The proper and best position on these dams is crystal clear: hydropower provides renewable, cheap energy to our power grid around the clock. It’s unconscionable that so-called environmental advocates are forcing dam removals across the West without the scientific evidence to back up their ideas, and no acknowledgement of the catastrophic consequences that could occur from these actions.

As the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission advances the removal of four dams on the Klamath, and elsewhere across the West, we must continue the fight to protect these engines of energy and economic reliability.”


The zero carbon juggernaut rumbles on, chewing up pieces of modern society’s energy platform.  Even dams are removed despite their essential baseload power stabilizing the grid, with no carbon emissions. Meanwhile, gas and coal supply infrastructure is constrained and allowed to decay, with no chance wind and solar will make up the difference in reliable affordable power.