A federal district court today ruled that the federal government’s operation of four dams on the lower Snake River violates the Clean Water Act, and the Court ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to produce a decision that complies with the Clean Water Act to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead within 60 days. Environmental groups, joined by the Nez Perce tribe and the State of Oregon, proved that the dams raise water temperatures and dissolved nitrogen above mandatory water quality standards. The Court ordered the Army Corps to protect the river’s water quality when planning its operation of the dams and their reservoirs.
“I cannot overstate the importance of this ruling for native salmon and steelhead,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. “Last year the Court ruled that the Army Corps had to comply with the Clean Water Act like everyone else, and this ruling confirms that the agency has been violating the law year after year. We finally have a legal handle to heal and restore our rivers.”
Specifically, the Court held that “the operation of the dams on the lower Snake River has a significant effect on the exceedences of state water quality standards…. it was a clear error of judgment by the Corps not to address compliance with its legal obligations under the Clean Water Act.”
“Salmon have become the scapegoats for our region’s current energy problems, when poor management and planning are to blame,” said Nicole Cordan of Save Our Wild Salmon. “This ruling reinforces the need to devise salmon-friendly solutions that preserve our region’s water quality.”
“The federal government has to take water quality, salmon protection, and energy conservation seriously and do so immediately if we are going to a fishing industry in the future,” said Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “The Court’s order provides yet another reason for the government to seriously consider removal of these four dams in its long-term plan.”
“The dams make the river too hot and create high levels of dissolved nitrogen, both problems that can be lethal to fish,” said Tim Stearns of National Wildlife Federation. “As the Army Corps plans it operations of these dams for the next decade, they now must preserve both water quality and salmon.”
The case, National Wildlife Federation v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, was brought by National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Washington Wildlife Federation, and Idaho Wildlife Federation. The environmental groups are represented by Kristen Boyles and Todd True of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and Stephanie Parent and Craig Johnston of Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center.