Calif. residents express concerns over Klamath dam removals

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Calif. residents express concerns over Klamath dam removals

Date: 03/04/2024     Category: News & Media     Author: Shaun Hall     Publication: Capital Press    

At Siskiyou County meeting, water quality, loss of lakes were top issues

Copco Lake, as it appeared before Copco 1 dam was breached last month and the reservoir was drained.EcoFlight, Klamath River Renewal Corporation

HORNBROOK, Calif. — Dozens of people came to the microphone Tuesday during a meeting with Siskiyou County officials to express their grief, anger and concern over the recent breaching of three dams on the Klamath River.

The release of water and sediment from Iron Gate, Copco 1 and JC Boyle dams since Jan. 11 has muddied the river and left mud where reservoirs once stood. Public concern prompted the county’s board of supervisors to call Tuesday’s meeting, held in a packed community center near the former Copco Lake.

“It’s gone,” Dorothy Dana, 92, told supervisors, referring to Copco Lake. “We will never get it back.”

The bed of the lake is now a vast gooey mudflat, although efforts are underway to reseed and replant all 2,200 acres that had been formerly submerged by the three lakes.

“That lake was just horrible, horrible,” Dana said, referring to current conditions. “It’s an absolute shame. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.”

Her late husband, Denzel, loved to fish.

“He would absolutely want to cry,” she said.

A map shows dam-removal projects along the Klamath River in Northern California and Southern Oregon.Klamath River Renewal Corporation

The meeting began at 10 a.m. and lasted until after 5 p.m., with the first hour taken up with comments from the public, including Dana and about two dozen others. Michael Kobseff, chairman of the board, ran the meeting.

“This is a difficult situation for many,” Kobseff said in opening remarks. “For some, there will be a bit of emotion.”

The breaching was a prelude to removal of the dams later this year. Copco 2 already came out last year. The dams, located southeast of Ashland and southwest of Klamath Falls, are coming out in an effort to improve river health and fish populations.

Their removal opens the way for migrating fish to access more than 400 miles of habitat.

The former owner of the hydroelectric dams, PacifiCorp, agreed to relinquish the dams rather than pay for fish passage, although the company is contributing $200 million toward the dam removals, on top of $250 million contributed by the state of California.

Concerns raised during Tuesday’s meeting focused on water quality and the loss of the lakes for recreation.

“We are watching our beautiful river go to hell,” said Ann Noel of the Klamath River Country Estates Homeowners’ Association.

“We now live in the unknown. … I sincerely hope the science is correct.”

William Simpson II, a Hornbrook rancher, said testing of river water gathered by an independent party showed it contained high levels of heavy metals.

“We’re talking about serious pollution,” Simpson said.

No results of testing were presented by the county or the company removing the dams, the Klamath River Renewal Corp.

Messages sent requesting the information were not returned Wednesday.

Among the people who came to the microphone was Beth Peterson, of Hornbrook.

“There’s been some marketing going on to sell this to people,” she said, referring to information given to the public about the project. “We have tons of toxic waste. … This is not what we were sold.”

One of the speakers wanted to spread the word, saying, “We cannot let this happen anywhere else.” Another speaker said there were dead fish everywhere, and that “the Klamath River is the river of death.”

Michael Harris, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said there’s been no recent instances of deer getting stuck and dying in the muck. Initial reports put the number at less than a dozen.

Harris also said the department was aware of fish losses, but provided no numbers. He suspected that some fish were hanging out in tributaries and avoiding the main stem of the river for now.

As for sediment in the water, Harris said, “What we’re seeing was expected to occur.”

A muddied Klamath River flows west of the Iron Gate Dam removal near Klamath, California, last Thursday.

Mark Bransom, CEO for the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, said about a third of the sediment behind the dams had been “mobilized” during the recent drawdown of the reservoirs.

“We’re adding about one year’s worth of sediment to the river,” he said.

He addressed the crowd and took questions from supervisors.

“I want to acknowledge this is a difficult time,” he said. “I understand what we’re all observing represents a significant change. Change can be difficult. We’re facing a difficult time, but I believe it’s a relatively temporary period while we turn a corner.”

He added: “I’m hopeful with the passage of time we’ll see positive results.”

The company’s website contains detailed environmental impact statements related to the project, while many of the company’s educational materials highlight project benefits.

According to company statements, the impacts from dam removal on fish are expected to be short term, lasting one to two years, with populations recovering from sediment impacts within five years. The river is expected to remain cloudier than usual for up to two years after deconstruction is finished.

The sediment now in the river is mostly dead algae, clay and fine material the consistency of talcum powder, according to the company. Spikes in sediment load are expected this month and in June and July.

Iron Gate and the Copco dams are about 20 to 25 miles southeast of Ashland while JC Boyle is about 15 miles southwest of Klamath Falls in Oregon. Copco 1, built in 1918, is the oldest, while Iron Gate, built in 1962, is the youngest.

Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 458-225-7179 or You can also follow him on Twitter @ShaunHallRVT.