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Largest River Restoration in US History

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

In 1918 a power company built four dams along the Klamath River near the California-Oregon border to generate electricity. The dams both stopped the natural flow of the river - and the lifecycle of salmon who lay eggs there.

River dam, California

The salmon are also culturally and spiritually significant for a number of Native tribes that once depended on them as a food source. Those same tribes have been advocating for the dams’ removal for years, and have been collecting nearly 17 billion native seeds for the past five years to replant once the river has been restored.

“The river is our church, the salmon is our cross. That's how it relates to the people. So it's very sacred to us,” said Kenneth Brink, vice chairman of the Karuk Tribe. “The river is not just a place we go to swim. It's life. It creates everything for our people.”

When demolition is completed by the end of next year, more than 400 miles of river will have opened for threatened species of fish and other wildlife. By comparison, the 65 dams removed in the U.S. last year combined to reconnect 430 miles of river.

The demolition of these dams is part of a larger, national movement to restore rivers, habitats for fish, and the ecosystems that support surrounding wildlife. As of February, more than 2,000 dams have been removed across the country.

Why is this good news? While they can serve as a power source, dams disrupt natural ecosystems - the impact of which is long-term and far-reaching. With Native tribes leading the way, proactively planting, monitoring, and tending to native seeds, the area has a very good chance of being fully restored.

Meanwhile, in Europe, a record number of river barriers, including dams and weirs, were removed across the continent in 2022, with at least 325 taken down in 16 countries, allowing rivers to flow freely and migratory fish to reach breeding areas.


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