Dam Removal Conservation

Listen now: Lessons from the Klamath Dams

TU’s Brian Johnson joins The River Rambler podcast for a conversation about dam removal, coalition building and what comes next on the Klamath Basin

On the new episode of The River Rambler podcast, TU’s California Director Brian Johnson joins artist, angler and conservationist Richard Harrington for a wide-ranging conversation about the historic effort to reconnect the Klamath River and the steps ahead for dam removal.

The Klamath watershed spans the California and Oregon border and was once the third most productive salmon and steelhead system on the West Coast. For over a century, the four mainstem dams of the Klamath River Hydroelectric Project have degraded water quality and blocked salmon and steelhead from accessing over four hundred miles of spawning and rearing habitat throughout the upper basin. Removing these barriers will be the largest dam removal project ever attempted anywhere in the world.

In addition to his role at TU, Johnson serves as the President of the Board for the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, the nonprofit established to take ownership of the four dams, manage their removal in the coming years and revegetate the former impoundments once they are drained. He’s spent nearly twenty years working closely with tribal partners, commercial fisherman, conservation nonprofits, government agencies, landowners, and the power company who owned the four dams until late last year.

In this episode, Johnson helps listeners understand the immense amounts of dedication, creativity and commitment offered by the broad coalition working to restore the Klamath. Throughout the years leading to FERC’s historic vote to proceed with dam removal, there were a number of setbacks and potential dealbreaker moments where the process could have been stopped in its tracks. Many of those times, it seemed like it might have been. But at each of these key moments, coalition members rallied to keep moving forward and build durable solutions. Beyond these critical moments, there were countless acts by individuals who found ways to support the process and the vision of a reconnected Klamath Basin.

Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River

It is an inspiring story and one every advocate for clean water, free-flowing rivers, and thriving populations of native fish should make time to hear.

Along the way, Harrington and Johnson also discuss the importance of connecting children to wild rivers and landscapes, the ongoing lessons of steelhead and salmon recovery on Washington’s Elwha River, the need to remove dams on the Eel River, the importance of listening to Indigenous ecological knowledge, and the opportunities and need to recharge groundwater and reconsider water management in California and across the West.

Don’t miss this episode. You can listen to it at the link above or find The River Rambler wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts.