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California launches the largest dam removal project to protect salmon and tribal heritage

The largest dam removal in history begins in California, promising the resurgence of salmon population and the revitalization of tribal traditions.

California launches the largest dam removal project to protect salmon and tribal heritage
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Jack Redgate

Hydroelectric power projects have been comparatively cleaner than traditional fuel sources. However, building a dam affects the natural geography of the surrounding area and the people living there too. Many projects have severely disturbed or displaced local populations. But there is hope for the Yurok Tribe with the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRCC) as they work with the Shasta Indian nation to free up the Klamath River after more than a century.


The Klamath Hydroelectric Project, which will be demolished, has blocked the passage of fish and changed the direction of river flows for over a century. Kikacéki, which has been considered a sacred location by the Shasta Indian nation, contains Ward's Canyon where the river flow was disturbed because of the construction of the Copco No.2 dam. The change in river flow resulted in many trees growing in the steep Canyon. Presently, the Yurok Tribe Construction Corporation and Yurok Fisheries Department are working with the KRCC, Shasta Indian Nation and Heli-Dunn to clear the trees from the area whilst ensuring that the other vegetation in the area is not disturbed.


The trees would be moved to a location that would allow them to be used in restoring 2,200 acres of reservoir beds. Yurok Vice Chairman Frankie Myers spoke about the renewal efforts saying, "For the last century, we have watched the dams suffocate the life out of the river and it has negatively impacted every member of our Tribe. I would like to thank the KRRC and the Shasta Indian Nation for the opportunity to help our salmon runs and our river recover for our children and the next generations." Kikacéki is a prime location, being the traditional homeland of the Shasta Indian Nation, acting as a passage between villages and ceremonial places and most importantly, the Tribe's spiritual center of the world.


Studies conducted by archaeologists reveal that the area had been used by the tribal people for thousands of years before the Copco dams were constructed. The Shasta people continue to come to the Canyon every year despite having their land taken from them a long time ago, highlighting just how important it is to their culture. The project kicked off once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave the approval that enabled the deconstruction of the Copco No.2 dam to begin. If the project turns out to be successful, it will be one of the largest salmon restoration projects in history.

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Before the construction of the dams, the Klamath River was home to many fish, such as spring and fall Chinook, king salmon, steelhead trout, sturgeon and Pacific lamprey, to name a few. Because of the declining fish population, the Yurok tribe canceled their annual salmon harvest festival. In addition to that, non-tribal commercial and recreational salmon fisheries remained shut down. While there are many reasons for the decline, the primary contributor is the Klamath dams.


Fisheries remain optimistic that the removal of the dams would result in a steady increase in the population of fish in the river. Shasta Indian Nation Vice-Chair Candice Difuntorum said, "It is important to me that my children and future generations have a free-flowing Klamath River to preserve our culture and traditions." She continued, "We have a saying in Shasta—rawé·ki ča·k’ú t’árak. It means 'may the land be returned.' For the wellbeing of the land and our people, we look forward to the day that Kikacéki is restored."

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