Credit: Shane Anderson, Swiftwater Films

The Klamath Basin has been abuzz with the news that removal of the first of four Klamath River hydroelectric dams is well underway. Removal of Copco No. 2 dam is well underway and expected to be completed in September.

Four dams will ultimately be removed from the Klamath River. The other three dams, JC Boyle, Copco No. 1, and Iron Gate, are expected to be removed next year, beginning with the drawdown of the reservoirs in January of 2024. Copco No. 2 is the smallest of the four dams and sits in Wards Canyon, just downstream of Copco No. 1 and upriver of Iron Gate Dam.

The main role Copco No. 2 played in the Lower Klamath Hydroelectric Project was to serve as a diversion point to control river flows to create electricity. By removing Copco No. 2 now, before the reservoirs behind the larger dams are drawn down in early 2024, construction crews will be able to complete work on restoring the river channel through the old dam site. That channel will allow easier passage of water and sediment during drawdown.

Because of how the dams were managed for generating power, the stretch of riverbed below Copco No. 2 has not seen a consistent flow of water for decades. This area, known as Wards Canyon, is about two miles of steep and narrow terrain. In the years since the dams were put in place, hundreds of trees have grown into the river channel because water does not flow through the area continuously. Many of those trees will be removed before drawdown of the larger reservoirs begins in January.

Community members may also have noticed some construction around the lowermost dam, Iron Gate. While crews recently removed some of the fishponds that currently sit below that dam, no work has started yet to remove any of the dams other than Copco No 2. That work will not begin until after drawdown is complete in 2024.