A $445 million proposal to remove four dams from the Klamath River to restore salmon habitats received support of federal regulators with release of the project's final environmental impact statement.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff recommended the approval of the license to surrender, decommission and remove the four dams–three in northern California and one in southern Oregon. 

The staff review, released Aug. 26, found that removing the dams has environmental and public benefits including the restoration of hundreds of miles of upstream habitat for imperiled migratory salmon. Native American groups, such as the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, have long sought the removals to restore dwindling fishing stocks.

This action paves the way for the project's final approval by the five-member FERC board later this year, possibly in September. If approved, the non-profit corporation overseeing removal of the dams, Klamath River Renewal Corp. (KRRC), and PacifiCorp, their utility owner, hope to obtain a license surrender order that will govern the removal.

The proposed removal would represent the largest dam demolition ever undertaken in the U.S. A Congressional Research Service report released earlier this year cited the project as a model for transferring private dams to states or non-profits for removal in exchange for liability protection.

“KRRC is heartened by FERC’s thorough and timely environmental review of the project,” said CEO Mark Bransom in a statement. The firm is the result of a 2020 agreement to make Oregon and California equal partners in the removal effort.

In addition to the license surrender order, the project also will require a federal Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and federal historic preservation approval developed with affected tribes.

Bransom said the final review mirrors the draft version released earlier in the year, and his organization was reviewing the new document to incorporate mandatory conditions made by state and federal agencies, and other measures by Commission staff into the license surrender order application.

If approved, dam removal activity could begin in 2023 and be completed in 2024. Environmental restoration efforts will then begin, expected to take at least five years. 

In 2019, Kiewit Infrastructure West was selected to remove the four dams under a progressive design-build contract. Heavy civil firm Knight Piesold, which specializes globally in hydropower and mining services, is the engineering subcontractor. Texas-based Resource Environmental Solutions is the project restoration contractor.

Richard Whitman, director of the Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality, described the final review as “an encouraging step forward,” adding that it and other reviews "set the stage for addressing many of the underlying causes of conflict over water, water quality and fisheries in the Klamath. We look forward to working with all of our partners to help put resource management back on a sustainable footing."