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Planning For Salmon And Steelhead To Return As The Klamath Dams Come Down

As the largest river restoration effort in history moves forward, Oregon and California plan for fish reintroduction and monitoring.

After decades of determined advocacy, tribes and conservation partners are now on the precipice of removing the four dams of the Klamath River Hydroelectric Project. For over a century, these dams have degraded water quality and blocked salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey from migrating upstream, completely extirpating these native fish from over 400 miles of spawning and rearing habitat in southern Oregon and northern California.

Crews are about to prepare access roads and other infrastructure to receive the extensive equipment required to physically remove the dams. By Halloween, the smallest of the four dams, Copco 2, will be gone. The reservoirs behind JC Boyle, Copco No. 1, and Iron Gate dams will be drained next winter. Those three remaining dams are scheduled for removal starting in summer 2024. Taken together, this work comprises the largest dam removal in history.

While this phase of the project brings a lot of justified excitement, it is also time to prepare in earnest for the return of anadromous fishes upstream of Iron Gate Dam. Wild salmon, steelhead, and lamprey populations are only a small fraction of the size they were prior to dam construction. Removing the dams is the best opportunity to rebuild their numbers. Multiple regional plans are being developed to guide this restoration process.

TU has been at the forefront of the effort to prepare for the return of native fishes to the upper Klamath basin. Staff working in the basin partnered with NOAA Restoration Center and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) to develop the Reservoir Reach Restoration Prioritization Plan to identify and prioritize key restoration projects in the inter-dam reach. This document will facilitate high-impact habitat restoration, fish screening and flow restoration projects in the portion of the watershed returning fish are most likely to first repopulate following dam removal.

Additionally, TU staff contributed to the Implementation Plan for the Reintroduction of Anadromous Fishes into the Oregon Portion of the Upper Klamath Basin developed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and The Klamath Tribes. The plan was completed in 2021 and will guide reintroduction efforts in Oregon’s portion of the upper watershed.

The California Natural Resources Agency and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) are currently working on the final version of their Klamath River Anadromous Fishery Reintroduction and Restoration Monitoring Plan, which will guide reintroduction in California’s portion of the lower watershed.

There are other plans in place for various restoration efforts throughout the Klamath basin including plans from both the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, but this article focuses on the Oregon and California state plans because they are the primary roadmaps guiding fish reintroduction and monitoring efforts following dam removal.

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