Largest US dam removal stirs debate over coveted West water

AP News –

The second-largest river in California has sustained Native American tribes with plentiful salmon for millennia, provided upstream farmers with irrigation water for generations and served as a haven for retirees who built dream homes along its banks.

With so many competing demands, the Klamath River has come to symbolize a larger struggle over the increasingly precious water resources of the U.S. West, and who has the biggest claim to them.

Now, plans to demolish four hydroelectric dams on the river’s lower reaches to save salmon — the largest such demolition project in U.S. history — have placed those competing interests in stark relief. Each group with a stake — tribes, farmers, ranchers, homeowners and conservationists — sees its identity in the Klamath and ties its future to the dams in deeply personal terms.

“We are saving salmon country, and we’re doing it through reclaiming the West,” said Amy Cordalis, a Yurok tribal attorney fighting for dam removal. “We are bringing the salmon home.”

The project, estimated at nearly $450 million, would reshape the Klamath River and empty giant reservoirs. It could also revive plummeting salmon populations by reopening hundreds of miles of potential habitat that has been blocked for more than a century, bringing relief to a half-dozen tribes spread across hundreds of miles in southern Oregon and northern California.

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