The Klamath River region stretches from the volcanic Cascades of southern Oregon, through the Klamath Mountains that crown California, to the wide, rocky beach of the Pacific Ocean near Crescent City, California. The Klamath Basin watershed covers 9.4 million acres, an area larger than nine U.S. states.
The natural wealth of the river has underpinned the physical and spiritual well-being of native tribes for thousands of years and has supported farmers and settlers for more than 150 years.
The Klamath’s resources fuel the region’s businesses, communities, and ecosystems including:
- World War II veterans’ homesteads and family farms, which benefit from the region’s nutrient-rich soil;
- A robust agriculture industry, which provides over 5,000 local jobs and brings in $600 million per year in revenues;
- Commercial salmon fisheries worth $150 million per year;
- Six federally recognized Indian Tribes who depend upon the basin’s fish stocks, clean water, and healthy forest ecosystem for their health, livelihoods, and spiritual and cultural practices;
- Recreational activities, such as fishing, duck hunting, camping, hiking, and whitewater rafting; and
- Six National Wildlife Refuges that provide habitat for most of the migratory waterfowl on the Pacific Flyway.
Built between 1903 and 1962, PacifiCorp’s Klamath Hydroelectric Project consists of seven dams with a combined generation capacity of 169 megawatts. The KHSA calls for the four lower dams (Iron Gate, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, and J.C. Boyle), which have a generation capacity of 163 megawatts, to be decommissioned.
The Keno Dam–which does not generate electricity–will remain and continue to provide irrigation services. The Link River Dam–which controls storage and releases from the Upper Klamath Lake and regulates flows through the Klamath River for fish and wildlife, irrigation, and flood control–will also remain, as will the Fall Creek facility.
Overview of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project Dams
|Dam||Description of System||Year Built||Electrical Capacity/ Average Annual Energy Production||Max Surface Area of Reservoir||Reservoir Storage Capacity||Dam Type||Dam Height/Length|
|JC Boyle||Reservoir, dam, fish ladder, power canal, two turbines, and powerhouse||1958||
98 MW/329,000 MWh
|420 acres||3,495 AF (total); 1,724 AF (active)||Earthfill||68 ft/693 ft|
|Copco 1||Reservoir, dam, two turbines, and powerhouse||1918||20 MW/106,000 MWh||1,000 acres||46,900 AF (total); 6,235 (active)||Concrete||126 ft/415 ft|
|Copco 2||Division dam, small impoundment, two turbines, and powerhouse||1925||27 MW/135,000 MWh||40 acres||73 AF (total); negligible (active)||Concrete||33 ft/278 ft|
|Iron Gate||Reservoir, dam, one turbine, powerhouse and fish hatchery||1962
|18 MW/116,000 MWh||944 acres||58,800 AF (total); 3,790 AF (active)||Earthfill||173 ft/740 ft|
Ten years after PacifiCorp began the relicensing process for the four lower Klamath River hydroelectric dams, the utility found that dam decommissioning–not relicensing–was in the interest of its customers. PacifiCorp initiated the relicensing process for these dams (Iron Gate, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, and J.C. Boyle) in 2000 with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. Over time, PacifiCorp learned that a new license would cost customers an estimated $400 million in upgrades and mitigations. Concurrently, a decade of collaboration and negotiations produced the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, or KHSA, which proposed an alternative to relicensing. PacifiCorp and parties agreed that the best path forward in terms of both economic and environmental benefits was to decommission the four hydroelectric dams. This conclusion was supported by the findings of the California and Oregon Public Utility Commissions, which found that decommissioning the dams was in the best interest of PacifiCorp’s customers.
Parties amended the KHSA in April 2016, initiating a FERC approval process for dam decommissioning. On September 23, 2016, PacifiCorp and the KRRC began implementing the KHSA by submitting applications to FERC. Following the FERC public process and pending FERC approval, PacifiCorp will transfer dam licenses to the KRRC. The KRRC will then manage the process to decommission and dismantle the four hydroelectric facilities and undertake risk management responsibility for the project. If approved, the KHSA will result in one of the largest river restoration efforts in the nation.
The KHSA is supported by governments, tribal nations, farmers, fishermen, and conservation groups. Basin stakeholders continue to work together toward other agreements to revitalize the basin by balancing the water budget, supporting community development for local counties and Tribal nations, and river restoration. For more information on other Klamath Agreements, see Resources.
The circumstances of the Klamath Basin are unique, and so is the KRRC. These circumstances—including the interrelationship of tribal rights in the Klamath Basin, settlement of water disputes, the engagement of two states, and the agreement of the private owner of the dams—makes restoration through dam removal the best long-term approach for one of the continent’s greatest rivers and the people who depend on it.