The installation of the Copco dams on the Klamath River has been a contemporary source of local and regional conflict. Many believe the dams to be the source of environmental degradation both within their local communities and on the overall health of the Klamath River Basin ecosystem. The dams and their immediate impacts on the environment and natural resources were met with local resistance and protest as soon as construction began on the river over 100 years ago. Indigenous, settler, and sportsmen groups were outraged by the effects of the dams on the historically predictable and productive salmon runs and on the stability of Klamath River Basin ecosystems and sought to slow and stop such projects.
Raising a dam at the mouth of Upper Klamath Lake in 1920 was believed by some to be an existential threat to the health of the Klamath River in its entirety. “[T]he peat lands located in what [was] known as the lower Klamath marsh [were] in immediate risk of being burned and the entire area being converted into a desert waste.” Public outcry was enough to instigate the temporary cessation of the project though not enough to permanently block the project’s completion.
Copco #2’s completion prompted another wave of protests from locals who saw the continued construction of hydroelectric dams as detrimental to the Upper Klamath Basin’s health and productivity. An article in the September 7, 1930 issue of The Oregon Statesman describes local sentiment represented by the Klamath Falls Lion’s Club protestation of the California-Oregon Power Company’s application for seven additional dam construction plans on the Klamath River.
History shows us that these dams have never been a part of the cultural fabric of the Klamath Basin. From the very first attempts at building hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, local communities were opposed to their presence and the resounding impact the dams had on the region’s valuable and abundant natural resources. Those efforts will finally come to fruition as the four dams that were built over public protest are now slated for removal in 2023.