Court Orders Dam Operators to Release Water For Salmon

Judge enforces requirement to let water flow past dams to help migrating salmon


Todd True, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340 ex 30

Today, a federal court ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release water on the Columbia and Snake Rivers to allow young salmon to bypass deadly dam turbines on their way to the ocean. Water releases are widely considered by scientists to be the safest way to move young salmon downriver and have been one of the few successful ways to aid overall survival of threatened and endangered salmon. Dam operators have resisted water releases for salmon because they prefer to use the water to generate electricity instead of allowing it to push salmon over dams. Scientists have calculated the water releases will result in an additional half million salmon successfully making it to the ocean from their birth streams in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. These salmon will return as adults contributing to the commercial, sport, and tribal fisheries in the Pacific Northwest.

“Today we celebrate a great victory for salmon,” said Charles Hudson, public information manager, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Spill is a fundamental aspect of Northwest salmon recovery; however, we need the leadership of Northwest members of Congress and the Bush administration to ensure that all aspects of the Federal Salmon Plan are fully implemented.”

As a result of today’s ruling, the Corps and Bonneville Power Administration will continue to release some water to flow over dam spillways throughout August rather than re-routing it through the dam turbines

“The court’s decision is a significant step for the future of wild salmon. For the first time a federal court has held the federal agencies that operate Columbia River dams accountable to the promises they made to restore salmon to these rivers. We have a long way to go but this could be a turning point for the wild salmon we have left,” said Todd True, an attorney with Earthjustice, which represents the fishing and conservation groups in the case.

“We have not solved all the problems of the Northwest salmon economy, but this court prevented a long term problem by ruling that spill must continue,” said Liz Hamilton, executive director, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “The burden of salmon loss cannot be put on the shoulders of the fishing communities and businesses again and again. We must do everything we can to ensure that our economy can stay strong and that there are always salmon swimming safely to the ocean.”

While the summer water release program is one of the few consistently successful requirements in the Federal Salmon Plan, that plan was ruled illegal in May 2003, but remains in force by court order until a new plan can be completed.

“Today Judge Redden looked through the rhetoric and saw that pennies saved on a monthly electric bill were not worth risking the collapse of the salmon-dependent communities and economies of the Northwest,” said Sara Patton, executive director, NW Energy Coalition. “Now our region must look forward and come up with better solutions for our energy needs using energy conservation and renewable sources rather than continuing down the path of pitting salmon against energy. We can have both.”

The federal government’s court ordered revision of the Federal Salmon Plan is due in draft form on August 30.

“Today the judge averted a potentially disastrous plan for Northwest salmon, but we should remember that this is a victory of maintaining the status quo, an insistence that the federal agencies do what they are required to do by law,” said Jan Hasselman, staff attorney, National Wildlife Federation. “We have seen a reluctance by this administration and its agencies to do what they are required to do to protect salmon. We must ensure that the new federal plan will address providing our region with long-term recovery of salmon and a revitalization of the Northwest economy.”


Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.