The Klamath River Renewal Corporation has announced the successful completion of the initial phase of drawdown, marking a significant milestone in the restoration efforts of the Klamath River. With the draining of Iron Gate, Copco, and JC Boyle reservoirs now complete, attention turns to the restoration process, paving the way for the forthcoming removal of three remaining dams later this year.

The emptying of the reservoirs signifies a pivotal moment in the project, allowing the Klamath River to reclaim its natural course after decades of confinement. Analysis of the sediment accumulated behind the dams has shown it to be primarily composed of inert materials, posing no threat to human health.

Mark Bransom, CEO of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, expressed enthusiasm for the progress: “Witnessing the resurgence of the river is truly inspiring. With the Klamath reconnected after a century, we are at the dawn of restoring one of the West Coast’s most prolific salmon-bearing rivers to its former glory.”

As the reservoir footprints recede, efforts are underway to restore the surrounding ecosystem. Working in collaboration with the Yurok Tribe, restoration crews have begun planting millions of native plant seeds, kickstarting the process of rejuvenating the area.

However, the potential for partial refilling of the reservoirs during spring runoff necessitates a comprehensive replanting strategy to stabilize soil and prevent erosion as the river reestablishes itself.

Throughout the drawdown process, an estimated 5 million cubic yards of sediment are expected to flow downstream, causing temporary water quality impacts. Nevertheless, measures have been taken to minimize environmental disruption, including the relocation of juvenile coho salmon by the Karuk Tribe fisheries department to off-channel rearing ponds.

Daniel Chase, Director of Fisheries, Aquatics & Design for RES, emphasized the resilience of native fish species amid challenging conditions: “Our native fish have adapted to survive various challenges, including periods of poor water quality. While the current turbidity levels may pose temporary challenges, fish populations have shown remarkable resilience in finding ways to persist.”

Despite the anticipated short-term water quality impacts, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation remains committed to full compliance with regulatory permits and environmental safeguards throughout the restoration process.