Conservation | Science | TROUT Magazine

California certifies Klamath dam removal meets water quality standards

On April 7, the long effort to restore the Klamath River and its once-prolific salmon and steelhead runs passed another major milestone when the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) issued its Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certification for the removal of the Lower Klamath Project.

The Lower Klamath Project includes the Iron Gate, Copco I and Copco II, and JC Boyle dams. The SWRCB certification affirms that taking out the dams will not impair water quality in California waters. In fact, removing the dams will actually improve water quality for some 200 miles of river, from the dams to the mouth.

The 401 certification is a federally mandated, state-level permit needed for any change in operation of a federal infrastructure project. The Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC)—the non-profit entity created to assume ownership and the operating license for the dams and to oversee their decommissioning—has already received the required 401 permit from the State of Oregon. 

Fishing the lower Klamath River. Photo courtesy Craig Nielson/Shasta Trout

Before issuing the certification, the SWRCB undertook a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis of the Klamath dam removal project. This analysis is required to identify potential environmental impacts as well as measures to avoid, mitigate, or offset those effects. The SWRCB acted as the lead agency for the CEQA review. It issued a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) in December 2018, held public hearings, reviewed thousands of public comments, and recirculated parts of their DEIR for additional scrutiny.

Concurrent with issuance of the 401 certification, the SWRCB also issued its Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR). After considering the full range of project benefits and impacts, the FEIR found that dam removal is the environmentally superior alternative. Trout Unlimited provided formal comments (link below) to the SWRCB in support of removing the four dams on the Klamath during the CEQA analysis.

The next step is for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve the transfer of the operating license for the four Klamath dams from PacifiCorp to the KRRC, and evaluate the surrender and decommissioning plans for dam removal to take place in 2022.

Trout Unlimited will continue to work with the KRRC and other Klamath Basin stakeholders—tribes, agricultural interests, counties and communities—to support the shared commitment to the goals of completing the largest dam removal and river restoration effort yet accomplished and ensuring economic security for Basin communities and businesses. We will also continue our groundbreaking habitat and streamflow restoration work in the upper Klamath Basin to help ranchers and landowners prepare for the eventual return of salmon and steelhead.