Dam’s Removal Restores Spirit and Habitat

A grand river recovers its natural flow and original beauty.

Dam’s Removal Restores Spirit and Habitat | A grand river recovers its natural flow and original beauty.

The Klamath River, flowing through Oregon and California before emptying into the Pacific Ocean, will be mighty again. The river’s Iron Gate Dam is scheduled for removal, and once it is gone, the river will be home to spawning fish, riverbank shrubs, and wildlife once again. And for many Native American people, this dam removal is akin to a sacred act.

This removal project includes the demolition of four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River, according to AP, and is the largest project of its kind in the US. The removal is now underway with expected completion by the end of 2024. 

This is a huge undertaking as it will open up 400 miles of river. In comparison, the 65 dams that were removed last year opened up a total of 430 miles of river. The Klamath River project will also empty three reservoirs, reintroducing sunlight to soil that has been submerged for a century.

A sacred river
These dams were built in 1918 to generate electricity, but were not viable as they powered less than 100,000 homes, according to The Seattle Times. After these dams were built, adult salmon who swim upriver were unable to complete the journey to lay their eggs. An estimated one million salmon used to swim upriver into the chilly waters, yet in the last ten years, this number has dwindled to less than 2,000.

This decline was devastating to the Yurok tribe, who used to survive on the salmon run. In fact, their culture and identity are intrinsically connected to this river and the salmon, explains AP. Kenneth Brink, vice chairman of the tribe, told AP, “The river is our church, the salmon is our cross. That's how it relates to the people. So it's very sacred to us. The river is not just a place we go to swim. It's life. It creates everything for our people.”

This wisdom goes back to the Yurok tribe’s story of creation, according to The Seattle Times. In their tradition, the river and the land were created first and were given to the Yurok to tend as long as they treated it well and did not take more than they needed.

Bringing back native plants by the billions
With the dam removal, the Yurok feel they have a new lease on life. They have spent the last few years preparing this land by gathering seeds from native plants and sending them to nurseries for cultivation. Their goal is to restore the river’s tributaries and habitat by planting 17 billion native plants from over 90 species. 

“It's a wonderful marriage of tribal traditional ecological knowledge and western science,” Mark Bransom from the Klamath River Renewal Corporation told AP. Helicopters will be used to transport hundreds of thousands of shrubs and trees for planting along the banks. They will even drop tree roots into the waters in order to make safe habitats for the fish. 

Even though it could take time for the river and wildlife to fully recover, nature can make quick repairs; within a few months of a dam removal on the Elwha River in Washington, salmon were seen swimming through sections that had been inaccessible to them for over a century. 

This will be an exciting year on the Klamath River for botanists, environmentalists, and the Yurok people. “When the river gets to flow freely again, the people can also begin to worship freely again,” Brink told AP. And when the salmon restart their sprint after a 100-year hiatus, those involved in this restoration will also be leaping for joy.


Sockeye Salmon Back in Canadian Lake for First Time in Fifty Years!

Meet Chicago’s Favorite Turtle Celebrity

Introducing the New Artificial Reef in the Netherlands