“The dams’ impacts on water temperature and salmon are only getting worse while EPA refuses to act” -Brett VandenHeuvel
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
EPA Further Delays Addressing Temperature Pollution from Snake and Columbia River Dams
More delay by EPA shows need for legislation on dam removal
March 4, 2020 (Seattle, WA)—Instead of taking action to address the hot water crisis killing salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today seeks additional delay. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling on December 20, 2019 told EPA to create a plan for hot water: “The time has come—the EPA must do so now.” Despite that clear order, EPA today asked the Court to reconsider its decision that EPA violated the Clean Water Act by failing to protect salmon and steelhead from dangerously warm water caused by Snake and Columbia river dams.
“This request for reconsideration is just another delay tactic by EPA,” said Snake River Waterkeeper Buck Ryan. “The Ninth Circuit’s decision was straightforward and its timing requirements clear. EPA’s request for additional review is a purposeful waste of time at a moment when swift and meaningful action is critical to avoid salmon extinction.”
“We are on the verge of losing endangered species that are an indelible part of our Northwest way of life, culture, economy, and heritage." said Nic Nelson, Executive Director of Idaho Rivers United. "EPA’s unwillingness to address the hot water crisis highlights the need for Northwest members of Congress to craft legislation that restores salmon by removing dams, modernizes our energy system, and invests in river communities.”
“The dams’ impacts on water temperature and salmon are only getting worse while EPA refuses to act,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “Northwest members of Congress should support legislation to remove Lower Snake River dams and reinvest in river communities.”
“Our members’ livelihoods depend on healthy salmon runs,” said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources. “It’s simply unacceptable for EPA to dither and delay while hot water kills otherwise-healthy adult salmon before they can spawn.”
Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources brought this case, are represented by the non-profit law firm Advocates for the West.
In 2019, the Ninth Circuit held that EPA has a duty to issue a temperature TMDL and that “The time has come—the EPA must do so now.” A temperature TMDL, or Total Maximum Daily Load, is a pollution plan designed to protect salmon from hot water in the Columbia and Snake rivers.
The case was sparked by record-high water temperatures in recent years, including an incident in 2015 where 250,000 adult sockeye salmon died when the Columbia and Snake rivers became too warm. Warm water, caused by large, shallow reservoirs and intensifying climate change, threatens the Columbia and Snake rivers’ already imperiled salmon and steelhead. In 2019, hot water in the lower Snake River again killed many endangered Snake River sockeye.
- Petition for Rehearing, March 4, 2020
- Ninth Circuit Opinion in TMDL Case, December 20, 2019
- Video of Ninth Circuit Oral Arguments in this Case
- District Judge Orders EPA to Protect Columbia Basin Salmon, October 17, 2018
- Photos of 2015 sockeye salmon die off
Water in the Columbia and Snake rivers is too hot for salmon and steelhead throughout most of every summer. In 2003, EPA studied the causes of hot water in the Columbia and Snake rivers and began developing a legally enforceable plan to fix the problem. But dam operators objected and the plan was shelved. Why? EPA found that dams are the main cause of temperature problems. The dams create large, shallow reservoirs that soak up the sun’s energy, warming the river. Because of this case, EPA will have to issue a temperature plan to protect salmon.
What is the law?
The Clean Water Act prohibits temperature in the Columbia River from exceeding 68 degrees. The Endangered Species Act is designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction. But the government agencies in charge of the Columbia and Snake river dams aren’t obeying the law. Today’s ruling establishes that EPA is legally obligated to write a plan to bring the rivers’ temperature back in line with the needs of salmon—and the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
Columbia Riverkeeper fights to protect salmon from dams, hot water, toxic pollution, and climate change.