Klamath River Dam Removal – Resilient Planning to Ensure Resilient Project Outcomes

Year: 2022
Presenter/s: Michael Belchik
Symposium Session: 2022 - 06 Klamath River Dam Removal is the Largest and Most Complex Fish Restoration Project Ever Attempted
Topics covered: fish passage, fish-salmon, instream structure (culvert/bridge/dam), lessons learned, permits, risk and resilience, and stream


Restoration projects are subject to regulatory scrutiny similar to that of many hard-infrastructure development projects. Regulatory requirements for projects of this nature often stem from need to protect against perceived or real risk of third-party litigation or other forms of legal, administrative, or regulatory challenge. Efforts to decommission the Lower Klamath Project – which involves removing the four mainstem Klamath River dams and restoring upward of 8000 acres of lands – face a broad, deep, and complicated regulatory framework. This requires project proponents to develop and implement resilient practices to ensure necessary authorizations can be obtained, while acknowledging and leveraging the self-mitigating nature of the restoration activities and ensuring the desired project outcomes. Common approaches to solving challenges used in planning large-scale dam removal include: creating stable project descriptions early; including alternative means and methods for analysis; bracketing impacts to inform permit conditions; building in operational flexibility to select critical-path project components; and adaptively managing implementation of restoration activities to accommodate field conditions or other variables. These measures will be described in additional detail with application, along with overviews of dam removal and restoration designs for the lower Klamath dam removal project. Beyond these measures, solutions often derive from organizational dynamics among project proponents, including the regulated parties, as well as unregulated advocates. When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a partial license transfer order for the Lower Klamath Project in July 2020, the settlement agreement that is the framework for dam removal was perceived by many to be at risk of failure. The principal parties to the agreement employed a resilient negotiations framework to get the project back on track and secure a new path forward for dam removal. Details of this approach and applications to full project implementation will be presented along with take home lessons and implications for large-scale dam removal and restoration projects.