Major hurdle cleared in plan to demolish 4 California dams

Federal regulators on Friday issued a draft environmental impact statement saying there were significant benefits to a plan to demolish four massive dams on Northern California’s Klamath River to save imperiled migratory salmon, setting the stage for the largest dam demolition project in U.S. history.

The issuing of a statement by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission clears a major regulatory hurdle for the project and paves the way for public hearings on the document before a final draft is issued as soon as this summer.

A final environmental impact statement would allow the extensive preparations necessary for the nearly $500 million demolition and habitat restoration plan to begin in earnest. Dam removals could begin as early as next year if all goes smoothly, but a more likely scenario is 2024.

The aging dams near the Oregon-California border were built before current environmental regulations and essentially cut the 253-mile-long (407-kilometer-long) river in half for migrating salmon, whose numbers have plummeted. The project on California’s second-largest river would be at the vanguard of a push to demolish dams in the U.S. as the structures age and become less economically viable and as concerns grow about their environmental impact, particularly on fish.

Regulators wrote that moving ahead with the proposal would “maximize benefits” to salmon fisheries important to local tribes and restore the landscape to a “more natural state.”

Tribes that rely on…

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