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Klamath Dam Removal Era: can it usher in a new age of enlightenment for river restoration worldwide

It’s exciting that the drawdown of Iron Gate Reservoir is imminent, marking a historic moment in this massive restoration effort.

Klamath Dam Removal Science Collaboration Workshop

Klamath River Dam Removal Offers Opportunity for Coordinated Research and Monitoring

The removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River – slated to occur in 2023 and 2024 – represents the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. While the dam removal itself is being undertaken by the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) to comply with regulatory requirements, there is a need and opportunity to coordinate more extensive research and monitoring to understand the ecological impacts of this monumental action.

The Klamath River was once the third most productive salmon river on the West Coast, but dams, water diversions, and other development have dramatically reduced fish populations and impacted tribal communities like the Yurok and Karuk who rely on the river. The goal of removing the dams is to restore the free-flowing river and revive its crucial fisheries. However, our scientific understanding of the effects of large-scale dam removal is still limited.

Some monitoring is already underway or planned around the dams themselves and for threatened species. But more coordinated efforts are needed to look at watershed-scale changes to the river’s geomorphology, water quality, ecology and how native species will respond. Key questions remain about how the ecosystem will evolve after a century of impoundment behind the dams.

To address these knowledge gaps, tribes like the Yurok and Karuk have organized workshops over the past few years, bringing together various stakeholders to identify research priorities and opportunities for collaboration. Scientists have emphasized the need to leverage existing monitoring programs where possible, while filling gaps with new coordinated studies.

The Klamath dam removal offers an unmatched chance to further our understanding of ecological restoration on a landscape scale. Lessons learned here can inform river management around the world. But realizing these research opportunities will require continued partnership among tribes, government agencies, academics and others. By working together, they can ensure the most extensive learning possible is derived from this unprecedented project.

The workshop summary notes there is still much to learn as we witness the effects of releasing the dams on such an ecosystem scale. But the level of engagement from tribes, academics, government bodies and others demonstrated at the workshop is extremely encouraging. I look forward to seeing what we can discover through systematic monitoring and analysis of this unprecedented restoration project in the years ahead. It’s an exciting time for the Klamath River and for river ecology.


These resources will be invaluable for scientists and agencies studying the Klamath River as the removal process unfolds. The collaborative spirit driving information sharing and research alignment is key.

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