Klamath River Dam Removal Project Begins

The Largest River Restoration Project begins on the Klamath River 

The Klamath River is one of the most powerful rivers in the United States. It drains an area of almost 16,000 square miles from central Oregon to the Pacific coast. Its average discharge is second only in California to the Sacramento River. The 257 miles of the Klamath River showcases some of the most beautiful and diverse scenery and wildlife, as well as some of the highest quality whitewater rafting anywhere in the world. The only thing more powerful than the Klamath River are the six dams, that impede the natural flow of water and have caused untold damage to the river’s ecosystem. However, things are on the brink of change for the Klamath River, as four of the six dams are slated for removal, starting Summer 2023. 

Map of the Klamath Dam Removal Project 

image courtesy of www.hydroreview.com

The origin of removing of J.C. Boyle, Copco 1, Copco 2, and Iron Gate dams comes from the Yurok Native American Tribe. The Yurok are the largest Native American tribe in the state of California. For centuries the Yurok have relied on salmon, which migrate hundreds of miles up the Klamath River, as their main source of food. The dams of the Klamath River have greatly reduced salmon population due to decreased habitat (the salmon can not swim up past most of the dams), increased water temperature (the shallow nature of the reservoirs causes the water to become dangerously warm), and pollution from the upstream agriculture the dams help irrigate. In 2002 a culmination of these factors led to an ecosystem disaster known as the Klamath River Fish Kill, when 34,000 migrating salmon were found dead in the river due to a disease in their gills.

Iron Gate Dam

image courtesy of www.reviewdesigngroup.com

Copco Dam

image courtesy of www.caltrout.org

Fast forward to today and the Yurok are working together with everyone who shares an interest in the health of the Klamath River including fishing groups, irrigators, conservationists, and white water rafting outfitters. After years of political back and forth, in November of 2020, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation announced that the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement will move forward with the removal of J.C. Boyle, Copco 1, Copco 2, and Iron Gate dams. The planned removal will start in 2023 and open up 234 miles of free flowing river from Keno Dam to the Pacific Ocean.

For Tributary, and the whitewater community, this will be a great opportunity to run unique single and multi day rafting trips, ranging in difficulty from Class II to Class IV, on stretches of the Klamath River that have been hidden under reservoirs for nearly nearly 100 years. These new stretches of river include Big Bend, Wards Canyon, and Iron Gate. The difficulty of most of these runs will only be discovered once the dams are removed as whitewater recreation did not exist before their construction. Over the past few years, Tributary has worked with fellow rafting outfitters, the KRRC, Yaruk Tribe and American Whitewater, to establish mitigation plans for the dam removal and the future navigation of these new sections of river.


We look forward to sharing Klamath River rafting in the newly rehabilitated Klamath River basin with anyone interested in discovering these “lost” stretches of river. Keep checking back for more updates on the Klamath dam removal process and opportunities for Klamath River rafting on this unique and exceptional river. Until then you can check out our exciting single day Upper Klamath river rafting trips, as well as our three day wilderness style Lower Klamath rafting trips.