Native tribes that rely on the Klamath River and its salmon for their way of life have been a driving force behind decommissioning of four dams straddling the California-Oregon border.

The project has long been a goal of several native tribes whose ancestors have lived off the salmon for centuries but whose way of life was disrupted by European settlement.
The project has long been a goal of several native tribes whose ancestors have lived off the salmon for centuries but whose way of life was disrupted by European settlement. (AP Archive)

A US agency seeking to restore habitat for endangered fish has given final approval to decommission four dams straddling the California-Oregon border, the largest dam removal undertaking in US history.

The dams' removal, which was approved on Thursday by The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is expected to improve the health of the Klamath River, the route that Chinook salmon and endangered coho salmon take from the Pacific Ocean to their upstream spawning grounds and from where the young fish return to the sea.

Native tribes that rely on the Klamath River and its salmon for their way of life have been a driving force behind bringing the dams down.

"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."

The project has long been a goal of several native tribes whose ancestors have lived off the salmon for centuries but whose way of life was disrupted by European settlement and the demand for rural electrification in the 20th Century.

Removal cost

Climate crisis and drought have also stressed the salmon habitat; the river has become too warm and too full of parasites for many fish to survive.

The dams on federal land, which at full capacity provide enough electricity for 70,000 homes, will be surrendered by power utility PacifiCorp, a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

Faced with costly new regulations that included building fish screens and ladders, the company instead entered an agreement with the tribes and the US government to decommission the dams.

PacifiCorp is contributing $200 million toward dam removal, paid for by a surcharge on its customers in Oregon and California, said Bob Gravely, a company spokesperson, and California voters approved a bond measure for the state to provide an additional $250 million.

US regulators raised flags about the potential cost overruns and liability issues in 2020, nearly killing the proposal.

Across the US, 1,951 dams have been demolished as of February, including 57 in 2021, the organisation said.

Most of those have come down in the past 25 years as facilities age and come up for relicensing.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies