Comment: The removal of a dam in the Klamath Basin needs a science-based monitoring plan

This comment was published in Mud matters on May 23, 2022

The Klamath Basin is on the verge of the most ambitious dam removal effort ever made. If all goes according to plan, efforts will begin by next year to demolish the four obsolete hydroelectric dams that divide the basin in half. Are we ready for that?

The consequences of this effort to remove the dam are enormous and affect not only the main trunk of the river, but ultimately all the tributaries where there is so much biodiversity. Removing the dams will be an important first step – albeit in many steps – to improve the salmon and steel head stocks in the basin.

A solid science and monitoring program is essential to ensure the success of the project – and will help guide future similar dam removal projects around the world. Although more than $ 450 million has been allocated for the removal of the dam, as far as we know, little has been allocated to fund the science needed to assess it. That is a mistake.

Science in the basin has come a long way in the last 20 years, thanks to the efforts of the federal government, Oregon, California, tribes, universities, consultants and various non-profit organizations. Efforts such as the Klamath Basin Monitoring Program and the Integrated Fisheries Recovery and Monitoring Plan in the Klamath Basin show great potential. But both efforts are under way, and neither is focused on meeting science and the need to monitor the removal of dams.

If we are going to have a science program ready when the tank withdrawal starts, we need to start with it now. Creating such a program usually takes a year or more.

We encourage all stakeholders in the basin to support the urgent development and funding of a research program dedicated to assessing the effects of dam removal and targeting management responses. Based on our many years of experience with various research programs, we offer four criteria necessary for success. The program should be:

Guided by hypotheses: The basis of adaptive management is that all managerial actions are hypotheses that need to be tested through modeling and observation. The key to success is to avoid the temptation to measure everything, and instead focus closely on the handful of hypotheses that primarily justify the removal of a dam.

Including: All countries need a place at the table, especially the tribes that have the biggest stake in the outcome and have developed increasingly sophisticated scientific and monitoring programs.

Well run: Strong leadership is essential. Although the program is inclusive, it needs someone with decision-making powers and resources to enable the program to be agile.

Reliable funding: Too often, these programs are combined to reduce funding for existing programs. In the long run, this approach is ineffective and creates confusion and conflict.

Based on other programs, we estimate that about $ 5 million a year is needed for 10 years. The combination of state and federal funding is the most likely source of this funding, although private philanthropy can help.

There are many models for this type of program, both inside and outside the government. The Grand Canyon Observatory and Research Center is an example of a federally managed program that deals with management hypotheses.

Another would be the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, a collaborative body with strong leadership and well-known for its inclusion and consensus-based programming.

A third option would be to develop a non-profit organization modeled on Klamath River Renewal Corporation, the organization responsible for removing the Klamath dams.

These are all viable options.

The whole world is watching the project to remove the Klamath Dam. This is an opportunity not only for the proper removal of dams, but also to guide the future management of the Klamath Basin and all other major projects to remove dams throughout the West and on this issue in the world.

All countries need to join a focused science program and they need to do so soon.

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