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Monday, October 10, 2011
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The Klamath River: How the 100-Year Old Crisis is Finally Coming to an End

By Guest Author, Laura Johnson, MESc '13, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

In a recent Yale Environment 360 video, photographer Pete McBride navigates the Colorado River from its source in the Rocky Mountains to its historic mouth in Mexico. It’s a sobering account. The Colorado River, Pete says, has become a “dry river cemetery.”

Over 20 dams were installed along the Colorado River to divert water for industrial, agricultural, and urban life. These ever-increasing demands exceed the river’s capacity, and droughts are spreading throughout the basin. Similar water management problems exist worldwide, but another example close to home is California’s Klamath River. Officials recently announced that four of the major dams along the Klamath will be removed in the coming years – and the situation there may offer some hope for the Colorado.

In 1909, developers installed the first of four major dams on the Klamath River as part of the PacifiCorp Klamath River Hydroelectric Project. The installation of these hydroelectric dams had a number of negative effects: Coho salmon and steelhead trout populations throughout the Klamath River Basin declined, migratory salmon were kept from reaching spawning grounds up river, and algal blooms developed behind the dams, creating an additional source of stress for fish populations.

Stakeholders – including Indian tribes, the US Department of Interior, farmers, environmental groups, and private citizens – called for improved management strategies and, in 2003, the National Research Council (NRC) released a set of recommendations for overhauling the Klamath River, including a call for dam removal. The NRC based its decisions on data and risk analyses, and provided stakeholders the indicators they needed to analyze potential effects of various water management strategies.

The inclusion of indicator data allowed stakeholders to come to an eventual agreement on how to best manage the Klamath River’s water resources; the various groups signed the Klamath Restoration Agreement and Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement in 2010 and are waiting approval from Congress. The dam-removal project is expected to begin in 2020, allowing PacifiCorp time to raise money for the project without increasing power rates to its customers.

The Klamath River Restoration Agreement offers a successful example of social learning through adaptive management and stakeholder involvement – and it underscores the importance of metrics and data in environmental decisionmaking.

For more information on the Klamath River restoration visit http://klamathrestoration.org/

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnergy & Climate

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