Thursday May 2, 2024

High Country News

Desiree Tullos and Will Nuckoles clambered down a steep slope high above what used to be Iron Gate Reservoir in Northern California one mid-February morning. As they wound through buckbrush, trying not to slip on the gravelly soil, Tullos, an Oregon State University professor, lagged behind her graduate student, hampered by the boot cast on her broken right ankle. “I’m not supposed to put any weight on it,” said Tullos. “But I didn’t want to miss anything.”

As they neared a trail camera mounted on a metal stake, the view emerged: Sheer chocolate-colored cliffs slanted down to the bottom of the canyon, where the muddy brown Klamath River meandered through a raw and reborn landscape.

Iron Gate and two other reservoirs were drained earlier this year — a major step in removing the remaining dams of the Lower Klamath Project, which is scheduled to be completed by October. The near-simultaneous removal of four large dams — with a combined height of 411 feet — makes it the largest such project in U.S. history. Nuckoles and Tullos are among the dozens of university, agency and tribal scientists studying the river’s response to this enormous transformation.

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