US Undertaking Largest Dam Removal Ever to Save Endangered Salmon

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

A federal agency is seeking to restore habitats for endangered salmon, and they’ve now made some progress. On Thursday, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an order surrendering dam licenses and approving removal of four dams on the California-Oregon border.

The dam removal will be the largest in U.S. history.

The removal hopes to improve the health of the Klamath River. This is the route that Chinook salmon and endangered coho salmon take from the Pacific Ocean to their upstream spawning grounds. It’s then where the young fish return to the sea.

The project has long been a goal of several native tribes in the region. Their ancestors have lived off the salmon for centuries. However, European settlement and the demand for rural electrification in the 20th century disrupted their way of life.

“The Klamath salmon are coming home,” Joseph James, chairman of the Yurok Tribe, said in a statement. “The people have earned this victory and with it, we carry on our sacred duty to the fish that have sustained our people since the beginning of time.”

Climate change and drought have also caused pressure on the salmon habitat. Additionally, the river has become too warm and too full of parasites for these fish to survive.

These dams are located on federal land. At full capacity, they provide enough electricity to power 70,000 homes. These dams will be surrendered by power utility PacifiCorp. This comapny is a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Company Decides to Enter Agreement to Decommission Dams to Preserve Salmon Populations

The company faced decisions over building fish screens and ladders. They eventually decided to enter an agreement with the tribes and the U.S. government to decommission the dams.

PacifiCorp is contributing $200 million toward dam removal, which is paid for by a surcharge on its customers in Oregon and California, said Bob Gravely, a company spokesperson.

California voters approved a bond measure for the state to provide an additional $250 million.

Salmon can be described as anadromous. They hatch in the gravel beds of shallow fresh water streams. Then, they migrate to the ocean as adults and live like fish in the sea. Finally, they return fresh water to reproduce.

Many species of salmon have been introduced and naturalized into non-native environments. These places include the Great Lakes of North America, Patagonia in South America and South Island of New Zealand.

Coho salmon is one of the five types of Pacific salmon species.

The traditional range of the coho salmon spans along both sides of the North Pacific Ocean, from Hokkaidō, Japan and eastern Russia. Then, it wraps around the Bering Sea to mainland Alaska, and then south to Monterey Bay, California. Coho salmon have also been introduced in all the Great Lakes. Furthermore, they can be found in landlocked reservoirs throughout the United States.

More than 20 were caught in waters surrounding Denmark and Norway in 2017, but many believe local farmers had introduced them there.