By Spencer Showalter
Mark your calendars for 2020—it could be the beginning of the largest dam removal project in American history. While dams in California have been used for generations to stabilize long-term water availability to settlers, their inherent role of restricting flow affects humans and ecosystems downstream. Because of these impacts, four dams in the Klamath River Basin are slated to be removed in a $450 million project that would re-open 500 miles of spawning grounds to coho and Chinook salmon. The gains from the removal could be huge. Reopening spawning grounds would help rebuild depleted salmon fisheries, and higher flow would mean cleaner water with fewer viral infections and toxic algae blooms. Because the future costs of upkeep of the dams represent a net loss to their owner, PacifiCorp, removal would be economically positive in a corporate sense. Additionally, the water and salmon fisheries were historically used by native tribes of the Klamath Basin, including the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, who stand to regain clean water and increased harvests if the dams are removed.