Celebrating a Win: Undamming the Klamath

It’s early September and I’m wet wading a long riffle on the Klamath River, swinging an unweighted, traditional wet fly on a floating line. This is bigfoot country and I’m looking for a fish that can occasionally be more elusive than Sasquatch… steelhead. As I near the tailout I begin to zone out. The repetition of cast, swing, step will do that to you. My mind drifts to the thought of the incredible journey these summer steelhead make to get from the Pacific Ocean to where I’m currently standing. My fly is swinging just under the surface when a steelhead explodes on it and my reel begins to scream as the fish heads downstream. After a short, intense fight, I slide the bright chrome summer steelhead on to the gravel bar before removing the fly and releasing her. As I watch the fish swim off, I can’t help but think about how far her journey will take her and how amazing it will be to someday see these runs of wild salmon and steelhead return to the spawning habitat above the dams that have been blocked for so many years.

On the drive to the next run, we pass by a cliff wall that we’ve gone past multiple times in recent days but today it has a face lift. Along the side of the highway wall, in bright green paint, it reads: UNDAM THE KLAMATH.

I can’t help but smile, thinking about the passionate delinquent that painted this wall in the middle of the night. For years, those words seemed like a pipe dream, but were now just a few short years from the country’s largest dam removal project becoming a reality. For decades, the Klamath River has faced numerous challenges, particularly the construction of dams for hydroelectric power generation. While these dams provided energy, they also disrupted natural riverine processes, obstructed fish migration routes, and degraded water quality, severely impacting local ecosystems and Indigenous communities who rely on the river for sustenance and cultural practices. In a historic decision, stakeholders, including tribal nations, government agencies, environmental organizations, and dam owner PacifiCorp, came together to initiate the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. This collaborative effort aims to dismantle four dams—J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, and Iron Gate—restoring over 400 miles of historic salmon habitat and revitalizing the river's natural flow. Additionally, it will enhance water quality, mitigate the risk of toxic algae blooms, and safeguard the health and livelihoods of downstream communities. The Klamath Dam Removal Project serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for environmental restoration initiatives worldwide. As we commemorate Earth Day, let us celebrate all those who have worked tirelessly to make this project a reality while also remembering that it’s up to everyone to do their part to ensure that places like the Klamath River are protected and enjoyed for generations to come.