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Klamath River Water Quality Improves After Dam Removal

A recent water quality report indicates that heavy metal concentrations in the Klamath River have significantly decreased since dam removal activities began in early 2024. The report, prepared by environmental consulting firm CAMAS LLC on behalf of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), provides the results of water sampling conducted in early May 2024.

In response to elevated heavy metal levels detected by Siskiyou County in late January 2024 shortly after drawdown of the reservoirs behind the Copco No. 1, Iron Gate, and J.C. Boyle dams, the KRRC agreed to conduct follow-up sampling at the same locations. The January samples found concentrations of aluminum, arsenic, iron and lead exceeding drinking water thresholds.

However, the new sampling performed by CAMAS in early May shows a dramatic reduction in heavy metal concentrations compared to the January results. Of the metals analyzed, only aluminum and iron were found to still exceed secondary drinking water standards at some locations. Importantly, concentrations of the dissolved fractions of aluminum and iron, which represent levels expected after standard water treatment processes, were well below regulatory limits.

Dr. Jacob Kann, an independent water quality expert who reviewed the lab results, concluded in a technical memo that the heavy metal levels are now safe for recreation, agricultural use, and as a raw source for drinking water systems employing standard filtration and treatment. Dr. Kann noted that concentrations tended to increase from upstream to downstream stations, even in reaches without a former reservoir footprint, likely representing normal Klamath River background levels.

With dam removal and reservoir drawdown activities ongoing, CAMAS and Siskiyou County plan to continue quarterly water quality monitoring at designated locations along the Klamath River. However, this latest report provides encouraging evidence that the short-term heavy metal impacts from releasing the sediment built up behind the dams have peaked and are now rapidly dissipating as the river flushes the material out to the Pacific Ocean. The results suggest a positive long-term outlook for water quality in the Klamath River after dam removal.

PDF of water sample report on Siskiyou.News


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