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Officials Begin Demolition of Iron Gate Dam, One of the Last of Klamath River Dams

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A picture of the iron gate dam
Source: Wikimedia common

Workers have begun the demolition of the largest dam on the Klamath River. The dam, which almost caused the extinction of salmon populations in Oregon and California, is currently being removed. It is one of four dams that caused one of the worst fish kills in US history.

When Northern California needed electricity in the early 20th century, the Iron Gate Dam was the last of these dams to be constructed. The 173-foot-tall dam saw its reservoir in January after it became functional in 1962. 

In the dead of winter, between fish runs, the non-profit Klamath River Renewal Corporation decided to drain the reservoirs. They supervise the removal project of the largest dam in the United States to date.

This month, Leaf Hillman, a Karuk elder, and his spouse Lisa witnessed the first removal of soil from the top of the earthen barrier. Shortened Sentence: They and other tribal leaders fought for years to demolish dams that almost destroyed their food source and cultural ties.

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For decades, tribes and environmentalists had battled to have the dams removed as part of a restoration project for the entire basin. Tribes worked hard to restore the Klamath River after a 2002 fish kill caused by toxic algae from reservoirs.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval for the dam removals in 2022, and in 2023 work on the project started. Midway through 2023, Copco II, the first dam, collapsed. 

March saw the start of Copco I destruction. FERC approved the early removal of the Iron Gate. The last dam, JC Boyle, is anticipated to collapse this autumn, in time for the Chinook salmon run.

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Salmon and other species will once again seek out their old breeding grounds after all the dams are gone and the Klamath flows freely. Due to the high natural concentrations of phosphorus in these regions, water quality has always been a problem. 

However, as free-flowing water removes the fertilizer, the quality of the water will improve. Hillman admitted that the dams and reservoirs are located in the Shasta Indian Nation’s traditional territories. Part of the material they remove will fill in the dam’s emergency spillway carved out of the rock next to the river.

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The three dams are supposed to be taken down in August or September, allowing Chinook salmon to migrate upstream past the locations. 

Hillman admitted that the Shasta Indian Nation’s ancestral lands are where the dams and reservoirs are located. The 2,200 acres of land that were formerly underwater have been demanded back by the 300-member tribe. Eminent domain was used to seize the land in the early 1900s.

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