A couple weeks back, Klamath River restoration hit another pivotal milestone: initiating drawdown at Iron Gate Dam. And just in the last week, crews blasted an opening at the Copco 1 and JC Boyle Dams, allowing water to flow and drain the reservoir. Klamath River restoration is in full stride. This news comes after complete removal of the Copco 2, the first of 4 dams removed on the Klamath, late last year. In an interview with NPR, Amy Cordalis, a Yurok tribal member, attorney, Trout Unlimited Board Member, and long-time Klamath restoration advocate, said “This is historic and life-changing!”

The mechanics of dam removal are complex and involve many moving pieces. Drawdown, where the reservoirs upstream of the remaining three dams are strategically lowered, is a critical component to facilitate complete removal later this year. The sediment buildup behind dams can be massive–there’s an estimated 17-20 million cubic yards of sediment behind the three remaining Klamath dams, and roughly a third of that sediment is expected to flow downstream. In the short-term, the sediment transport could have adverse effects, such as small fish kills and dust build up, but testing determined the sediment is non-toxic. In the long-term, however, this sediment transport is critical for recharging habitats and allowing nutrients to flow through the system like they used to.


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“Witnessing the beginning of drawdown at Iron Gate dam was both celebration of an important moment in the story of Klamath dam removal, and a source of pride for the exceptional work done by so many people to arrive at this day,” said Mark Bransom, CEO of Klamath River Renewal Corporation.“Iron Gate’s drawdown strategy is different than what people may have seen in the past with other dam removals,” noted Bransom. “There was no blast at this dam, instead we had the opportunity to use existing infrastructure, which allows us to precisely control the volume of water going down river, limiting downstream impacts.”


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As drawdown continues and new riverbeds are uncovered, TU and many other partners will be on-site ensuring restoration work continues. Natives plants are being planted. All the work necessary to afford salmon, steelhead, and other species the opportunity to fully take advantage of nearly 400 miles of restored Klamath River–prime spawning and rearing habitat, too–for the first time in decades. 

Rest assured, we’ll be sharing any and all updates for this historic effort to restore the Klamath River. I mean, the world’s largest dam removal project doesn’t happen all the time. But more importantly, there has never been more hope and opportunity to rebuild decimated salmon and steelhead runs in this country, and, hopefully, that momentum can translate to continued success in other watersheds. 

Cover image of Iron Gate Dam courtesy of Jason Hartwick of Swiftwater Films and KRCC. 


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