Preliminary work is underway to remove four hydroelectric dams on the lower Klamath River in Oregon and California.

The Klamath River Renewal Corp. hired Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., of Fairfield, Calif., on April 25 to come up with a project design for taking out the J.C. Boyle, Copco 1, Copco 2 and Iron Gate dams, opening about 400 miles of river habitat for migratory salmon and steelhead.

Kiewit will also be in charge of demolishing the dams, pending state and federal approval.

Mark Bransom, CEO of the KRRC, said the selection marks another step toward completing what he described as the largest dam removal and river restoration project in U.S. history.

“Once implemented, the project will help restore the vitality of the Klamath River so that it can support all communities in the basin,” Bransom said in a statement.

The four dams, built between 1911 and 1962, are operated by PacifiCorp with a combined generation capacity of 169 megawatts. The KRRC was formed in 2016 out of the amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement to take ownership and eventually remove the dams.

But first, the project must clear several regulatory hurdles. The KRRC filed its plan with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in July 2018, seeking a transfer of the dams’ hydroelectric license.

The California State Water Resources Control Board also released its draft environmental analysis of the project in January, which determined the long-term benefits for fish and water quality far outweigh any short-term negative impacts from construction. The board is now analyzing nearly 100 public comments on the findings.

In the meantime, the KRRC awarded the construction bid to Kiewit, which has past experience working on hydroelectric projects — most recently the emergency reconstruction of the Oroville Dam spillways, which were damaged by heavy rainfall and flooding in Northern California in 2017.

Jamie Wisenbaker, senior vice president of Kiewit Infrastructure West, said the company is proud to be chosen for dam removal by the KRRC.

“We fully understand the breadth and importance of this undertaking and are excited and committed to safely delivering a high-quality project that meets the expectations of the KRRC, the community and all key stakeholders in the region,” Wisenbaker said.

The initial contract authorizes $18.1 million for preliminary work, and Kiewit will deliver a maximum price for project implementation to the KRRC by January 2020.

“Kiewit has every technical skill in the world to get the job done, but beyond that, they just felt like the right fit,” Bransom said.

The KRRC’s budget is $450 million, with $200 million from PacifiCorp ratepayers in the two states, and up to $250 million from California Proposition 1 — a $7.5 billion statewide water bond that passed in 2014.

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