Stretching from the volcanic Cascades of Southern Oregon through the Klamath Mountains, to the Pacific Ocean in California, the Klamath River is intrinsically linked to the health of its surrounding communities, businesses, and environment. The Klamath basin’s diverse communities include Native Americans, farmers, ranchers, loggers, miners, and fishermen. 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.
Keno Dam, Link River Dam, and the Fall Creek Facility are not part of the KRRC project. PacifiCorp will transfer Keno Dam to the United States government under the amended KHSA, but both dams will remain operational: Link River Dam will continue to provide water storage in Upper Klamath Lake for the Klamath Reclamation Project, and Keno Dam will continue regulating upstream water levels to provide for diversion and flood control. The Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) expects to undertake evaluation of Keno Dam fish passage alternatives and related work in the near future.
Overview of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project Dams
|Dam||System Components||Year Built||Electrical Capacity Avg Production/Year||Max Area of Reservoir||Reservoir Capacity||Dam Type||Dam Height
|JC Boyle||Reservoir, dam, fish ladder, power canal, two turbines, and powerhouse||1958||
|420 acres||3,495 AF (total)
1,724 AF (active)
|Copco 1||Reservoir, dam, two turbines, and powerhouse||1918||20 MW
|1,000 acres||46,900 AF (total)
|Copco 2||Division dam, small impoundment, two turbines, and powerhouse||1925||27 MW
|40 acres||73 AF (total)
|Iron Gate||Reservoir, dam, one turbine, powerhouse and fish hatchery||1962
|944 acres||58,800 AF (total)
3,790 AF (active)
Over the past few decades as the river’s health declined, citizens of the Klamath basin challenged one another in courtrooms and before government agencies to protect their families, communities, environment, and ways of life. Hardship and conflict escalated in 2001, when the federal government cut water deliveries to farms to protect endangered fish. The following year, nearly 70,000 adult salmon died in a catastrophic fish kill. This 2002 major loss of juvenile salmon productivity later resulted in widespread and costly in-river and ocean salmon fisheries closures.
However, Klamath basin residents did not ultimately retreat into conflict. Instead, leaders with different interests in the river began developing collaborative solutions to restore river health, as well as address many broader stakeholder concerns. These efforts paid off and a key piece of the broader Klamath agreement is moving forward: a plan to remove the four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River through the amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA). PacifiCorp has decided to work with stakeholders on an agreement to remove the dams under terms that provide cost protections and certainty for customers in lieu of investing in expensive upgrades to comply with federal water quality and fish passage regulations. PacifiCorp’s decision to first sign the KHSA has also been affirmed by both California and Oregon public utilities commissions.
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, irrigators, 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.