An exciting moment: the demolition of the first dam on the Klamath River begins

Fragmented communities behind the curtain of redwoods can come together to take on big energy companies and win, said Craig Tucker, natural resources consultant for the Karuk tribe. Copco dam no. 2 is being removed. All four dams are expected to be removed by 2024. (Contribution/Shane Anderson, Swiftwater Films)

This week the demolition of the smallest dam on the Klamath River, Copco n. 2 in Oregon. Crews removed gates, a walkway and two of the five bays to the spillway.

Organizers who supported the removal said seeing images of the demolition had finally made the decades-long struggle to dismantle the Klamath a reality.

It’s hard to explain how emotional we all are, said Craig Tucker, a natural resources policy adviser for the Karuk tribe.

copco n. 2 would get in the way when Copco no. 1, much bigger, will be decommissioned next year, so go first.

The demolition of Copco no. 2 was made to direct the waters around the dam, rather than over it, which will allow construction crews to work during the summer months, according to a press release from the non-profit Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which is overseeing the dike removal and area restoration.

The demolition of Copco no. 2 is expected to be completed by September, according to a dam removal document from the KRRC. The other dams will collapse by the end of 2024.

If you truly believe in something, you have to fight for it. We have fought for generations; my children were raised in this, said Annelia Hillman, a community activist who has advocated for the removal of the dam for 20 years.

Tucker said the removal of the dam would never have happened without the leadership of the tribes, especially the Yurok tribe and the Karuk tribe.

They won and were just relentless. I think many other organizations would have raised their hands a long time ago, Tucker said.

Crews work to remove Copco Dam No. 2. It is the first of four dams to be removed along the Klamath River. (Shane Anderson, Swiftwater movie)

He added that many people have made it possible, including a coalition of multiple tribes, a handful of conservation groups and commercial fishing groups.

He said this is a reflection on how important the Klamath River is to so many different communities.

Tucker and Hillman each said that removing the dam is just the beginning.

We will have hundreds of miles of historic habitat that will be available to fish again. There’s a lot of restoration work that needs to happen, Tucker said.

Tucker said flow limits now need to be established to ensure water is shared fairly, as a 225,000-acre federally owned irrigation project sits upstream from the dams. How much water flows out of the river is largely a function of how much water goes to the project, he said.

Hillman said the decade-long process involved a lot of gridlock and red tape, and she said she was surprised to get the call about the first dam falling.

Ren Brownell, public information manager for KRRC, said mostly preparation work for the removals is taking place this year, including building an access road to reach the Copco Dams.

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