A US commission seeking to restore habitats for endangered fish gave final approval Thursday to decommissioning four dams on the California-Oregon border, the largest dam removal operation in US history.
Removing the dams is expected to improve the health of the Klamath River, the route that the endangered Chinook and Coho salmon take from the Pacific Ocean to their upstream spawning grounds, and from where the juveniles return to the sea.
The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an order waiving dam licenses and approving the removal of dams.
The project has long been the goal of several indigenous tribes whose ancestors lived on salmon for centuries, but whose way of life was disrupted by European settlement and the demand for rural electrification in the 20th century.
“The Klamath salmon will come home. The people have won this victory and with it we are fulfilling our sacred duty to the fish that have fed our people since the beginning of time,” Joseph James, chief of the Yoruk tribe, said in a statement.
Climate change and drought have also affected salmon habitats as the river has become too warm and full of parasites for many fish to survive.
The dams, built on federal land and which provide, at full capacity, enough electricity for about 70,000 homes, will be handed over to Pacific Electric Corp., a unit of Berkshire Hathaway.
Faced with costly new regulations that included building barriers and ladders for fish, the company instead struck an agreement with the tribes and the US government to decommission the dams.