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Source work leads to scoop on largest US dam demolition

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Portland, Oregon, reporter Gillian Flaccus used strong source work to break news of plans for the largest dam demolition in U.S. history, affecting four massive hydroelectric dams on the lower Klamath River along the Oregon-California border.

Flaccus had spent nearly a week reporting from the area in early March, including meeting with leaders of several Native American tribes that have fought for decades to remove the dams and restore vital salmon habitat.

The coronavirus and coverage of Portland’s racial justice protests kept her from returning during the summer, but when a stunning and unexpected ruling by federal regulators in July derailed dam removal plans, she kept in touch with the key players. Her source development paid off when she learned recently that an announcement was imminent on plans to demolish the dams. Flaccus pushed for an embargo, reporting and writing the story in advance with the understanding of tribal leaders and the governors of Oregon and California that she would hold her story until the official announcement.

Her deeply reported APNewsBreak moved a full 15 minutes before the press release went out, detailing the restructured deal that will almost certainly lead to the largest dam demolition in U.S. history, a first step in what would be the largest salmon recovery project in history – a project that will also rejuvenate a half-dozen tribes.

Oregon’s biggest newspaper didn’t try to match the story; they used Flaccus’ story and photos in their entirety.

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The Klamath River flows across northern California, seen from atop Cade Mountain in the Klamath National Forest, March 3, 2020. – AP Photo / Gillian Flaccus
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