Lewis River Fish Passage

Helping Lewis River Salmon Come Home

Hold PacifiCorp Accountable for its Promise to Restore Salmon Runs

The Lewis River basin is famous for salmon, stunning waterfalls, big trees, blurry bigfoot sightings, and hydroelectric power. On its way to the mighty Columbia, the Lewis River flows through three large reservoirs: Yale, Swift, and Merlin. These reservoirs provide electricity and recreational opportunities. But the dams also stop Lewis River salmon and steelhead from reaching their native spawning streams.

In 2004, PacifiCorp (the company that owns the Lewis River dams, and a Berkshire-Hathaway subsidiary) promised the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Yakama Nation, and the State of Washington that the dams would be improved to let salmon reach their spawning areas. Now, PacifiCorp is trying to renege on its promise. Why? Building and running fish passage facilities costs money. If PacifiCorp breaks its promise, the company could pocket over $100 million.

“PacifiCorp seek[s] to avoid their fish passage obligations at the expense of the affected resources and the Cowlitz people, solely to obtain significant financial gain.”

-Cowlitz Indian Tribe

This is not about dam removal. We can have salmon recovery and hydropower in the Lewis River—if PacifiCorp keeps its promises to tribes and the State of Washington. 

Re-connecting salmon with existing, high-quality spawning habitat is the best way to recover the Lewis River’s spring Chinook, coho, steelhead, and bull trout—all listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists from the State of Washington, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Yakama Nation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agree that PacifiCorp’s plan to renege on its promises would hurt salmon.

“Full fish passage . . . is key to recovery for Lewis River anadromous populations of spring Chinook, winter steelhead, coho and bull trout.”

-Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife 

Here’s what’s happening now:

Things are looking up for Lewis River salmon! During the summer of 2021, the National Marine Fisheries Service reversed a Trump-era determination that would have allowed PacifiCorp to renege on its promise to Tribes and Washington state to build fish passage. This is great news! But it’s still not clear when PacifiCorp will start (or finish) building the fish passage facilities it promised to construct long ago. Until then, Columbia Riverkeeper will continue holding PacifiCorp accountable for rebuilding strong salmon runs in the Lewis River.