By all accounts, the four lower Klamath River dams will be coming out sometime in the next few years. As a small business owner who leads fishing tours for anglers from within and beyond the region, I understand that taking these dams out may lead to a short-term dip in business. But the long-term benefits of dam removal outweigh the near-term costs to my family and my livelihood.
I’ve been guiding anglers throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon in search of trout and steelhead for almost 20 years. Years of experience have shown me first-hand what the scientists say: fish need clean, cold water to thrive. Migratory fish like salmon and steelhead need access to spawning habitat and healthy gravel beds to sustain wild populations.
The four PacifiCorp-owned dams that are planned for removal – JC Boyle, Copco 1 and 2, and Iron Gate –create conditions that are tough for fish. The reservoirs created by the dams warm the river water and promote the growth of blue-green algae, which is toxic for people and suffocates the fish as it’s released into the lower river.
Communities along the Klamath used to benefit from a robust recreational fishing industry. I’ve counted at least half a dozen defunct, closed, and run-down fishing lodges along 50 miles of the Klamath River. PacifiCorp’s hydroelectric dams are slowly strangling the river, the fish that rely on it for survival, and the businesses that in turn depend on healthy fish populations.
It’s hard to imagine what the Klamath River will look and feel like once these dams are removed. There are not a lot of models to look to, but we know that in watersheds where dams have come out, fish populations recover. When the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams were removed from the Elwha River starting in 2001, fish that had not been seen in that watershed for years were back within a matter of months. By 2012, the largest Chinook run in decades was counted in that river system.
On the east coast, in Maine, the 20th anniversary of the removal of the Edwards Dam from the Kennebec River is fast approaching. There, too, locals have witnessed significant fish populations recover. While the City of Augusta initially fought the dam removal project, it’s now widely celebrated as a success story. Revenue now flows into that community from anglers in search of migratory fish like shad that were once scarce, but are now abundant, thanks to dam removal.
Nursing the Klamath River – and its fish runs – back to health will take time. It’s likely my business will take a hit while the dams are removed, and even possibly in the couple of years that follow.
Even with these tradeoffs in mind, I’m all for taking out these dams. I’m exited for this once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a river go through a great change for the better, one that will give the fish and our communities that depend on them a chance to both survive and thrive.
https://www.returntoelwha.com/ - scroll to end of storymap for reference
John Rickard, the owner of Wild Waters Fly Fishing, has been guiding anglers throughout the State of Jefferson since 2002.