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Environmental Impacts of a California Dam Removal8 min read

California dam removal may impact wildlife in surrounding area

california dam removal project wildlife
Photo by Tejj on Unsplash

If you have been wondering about the Environmental impacts of a California dam removal project, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, you’ll learn about the Environmental impact report, the Fish and wildlife benefits, and the role of Tribal partners.

Environmental impacts of california dam removal project

In Southern California, the Forest Service is removing 81 dams in a project involving the U.S. Marine Corps and other partners. This project will also benefit endangered native wildlife. Forest biologist Julie Donnell has been working on the project. She says dam removals will benefit native wildlife and enhance the natural gradient and pool structure. But she has concerns about the project.

The environmental impacts of California dam removal projects may include sedimentation and temporary loss of downstream floodplain habitat. This is not the only concern, however. Dam removal also reduces surface water storage, causing downstream flooding. The impounded sediments contain toxic chemicals that may be unnecessary to expose humans. However, the downstream flooding is minimized as groundwater recharge increases, and high-velocity stream flows are not reduced, preventing shoreline erosion and channel incision.

Moreover, dam removals restore aquatic habitat, resulting in greater resilience of ecosystems.

Dam removal projects can be costly. Cost estimates from early 2020 indicate that the project could cost nearly $445 million. However, prior analyses suggest that the costs of maintaining and upgrading existing dams for fish passage are significantly higher than the cost of removing them. Therefore, the state’s government must consider the costs associated with these projects and seek alternatives. The federal government has an environmental impact assessment (EIS) on the project, which will help in the decision-making process.

The Klamath Dam Removal Project would be one of the largest and most complex dam removal projects in the U.S. This project is tied to two agreements, the First and Second Water Rights Agreement and the PacifiCorp water rights agreement, and those in power must approve the plan. If approved, the dam removal could begin as early as this year or the following. The four dams are on the mainstem of the Klamath River and run for 250 miles from Crescent City to the Pacific Ocean. Despite these negative impacts, the project would have some positive aspects.

In addition to this, it would increase access to the Klamath River and improve wildlife viewing and hunting.

The project could open up 400 miles of river habitat, which would be a historic endeavor. However, the removal of four dams would also require PacifiCorp to make other modifications. According to the company’s estimates, these modifications would cost the utility more than the dam removal project itself. The Klamath River Renewal Corporation is already collecting funds for the project by charging surcharges on its customers.

Environmental impact report

The environmental impact report for California dam removal project (DEIS) has been released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This document compares the effects of the dam removal with current conditions and concludes that it would have significant benefits for northern California. The DEIS evaluates the effects of dam removal on fish, water quality, and human health and recommends that the project proceed. The dam removal will also remove toxic blue-green algae, which threaten the health of fish and animals and are a major concern.

The project is an example of how environmental policy can be violated without following proper procedures. A poorly done EIS is not a reliable guide to what is acceptable. It may have implications for the future of the fishery. A dam’s removal will threaten the existence of salmon and other wildlife that live in the river. Moreover, it may cause the extinction of native species.

That’s why an Environmental Impact Report is needed to determine whether a project will have an impact on the wildlife.

The EIS for California dam removal project highlights a number of issues that are important to wildlife in California. In the Klamath River, a dam was built in 1947, and its stagnant reservoir has perished over 50% of the Southern steelhead’s spawning grounds. By removing the dam, the Klamath Tribes would have access to vital steelhead habitat, which has been blocked by the dam for over a century.

A large portion of the water used for the construction of the Delta tunnel is derived from the river. This water is used for industrial farms and to stop Klamath River fish perishes. Nevertheless, the Delta tunnel and the Sites Reservoir are major causes of the dwindling of the river’s fish population. Moreover, these dam removal projects will further dewater the river system, affecting Tribes and power rates.

Fish and wildlife benefits

water dam
Photo by spiros xanthos on Unsplash

The proposed dam removal project in California could benefit the river ecosystem in several ways. Among these are increased fish passage, the elimination of wave-driven bank erosion, the development of riparian vegetation, and decreased annual costs of about $300,000 for dam maintenance. In addition, the project will benefit fish and wildlife by removing an obstacle in the way of downstream residents. And as a bonus, the project will also allow for future planning for riverine recreation opportunities.

The project will remove an undersized culvert, create a 157-ft step-pool roughened channel, and construct two boulder weirs. The entire 600-ft reach will be replanted with native plants, with an estimated 80% survival rate. And once the dam is removed, the river will return to its natural condition. And this won’t just benefit fish, but also wildlife and people.

As the river flows again, the removal of the dam will also improve habitat for various species of fish. The dam is located in Benbow Lake State Recreation Area, a state park 70 miles south of Eureka and two miles south of Garberville. In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service has explicitly specified the removal of the dam as a fish and wildlife-friendly activity. The project also helps restore the river’s health and public safety.

The FERC DEIS can be found online. The report outlines the estimated impacts of the dam removal project compared to a no-action alternative. If the project is approved, the water-related issues surrounding the dam removal are likely to be resolved more quickly. Meanwhile, the public comments can continue until April 18, 2022. FERC will need to issue a final EIS before dam removal can begin. If the dam removal project moves forward, advocates are optimistic that the approval process will be finalized this summer.

Evaluation is still needed for determining if the dam removal project will be beneficial to fish and wildlife in northern California. According to the California Department of Interior, half of the state’s fish population is threatened with extinction and a recent study found that the Central Valley’s water supply may be unavailable within fifty years due to diversions and pollution. There is also a great need to protect the Klamath salmon, a major food source for the three largest Tribes in California.

Hence, the state needs to implement a new water management plan.

Tribal partners

Several Native American tribes in California are working with environmental groups to remove dams in their lands. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes collaborated on the milltown dam removal in California, while the Yakima Nation removed a fish-blocking dam in Washington state. The Ottaway and Penobscot tribes joined the project as well, as did the Yakima Nation.

The three dams were constructed on Blue Creek, one of the largest tributaries of the Klamath River, and are significant for tribal culture and fish. The state budgeted $450 million to remove them, which includes the participation of California’s federal and state agencies, as well as local and tribal partners. The dams smother the Klamath River, and their removal is expected to improve the river’s health and revitalize local communities.

Over the past century, over 1800 dams have been removed from US rivers.

In many cases, these dam removals have involved the involvement of Tribal partners. The engagement of these partners brings economic, cultural, and legal resources to bear on dam removal projects. The dam removal projects also offer an opportunity to understand shifting landscapes of environmental politics in the 21st century and emerging political spaces. These projects also provide an opportunity to integrate and incorporate under-recognized cultural and legal resources into environmental policy-making.

The work of tribal partners facilitates new collaborations.

The Klamath Basin watershed spans nearly nine million acres. Throughout the past 20 years, the Klamath Basin partners have completed 124 projects, providing valuable habitat for threatened species. The goal of the Klamath Basin project is to restore one-mile of the river to the healthiest condition possible for spring-run Chinook salmon and coho salmon. The salmon and steelhead restoration project also created jobs in an area with a high unemployment rate.

For more information on this subject check out this video

Provided by Antonio Westley


Disclaimer: This article is meant to be seen as an overview of this subject and not a reflection of viewpoints or opinions as nothing is definitive. So, make sure to do your research and feel free to use this information at your own discretion.



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