The Clean Water Act requires the U.S. EPA to make a plan to help Columbia River salmon—and the people and orcas that depend on these fish.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
EPA Must Reduce Temperature Pollution from Dams in Snake and Columbia
EPA must issue a plan to protect salmon and steelhead from dangerously warm river temperatures caused by dams and reservoirs
March 30, 2020 (Seattle, WA)—Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must finally take action to protect salmon and steelhead from dangerously warm river temperatures on the Snake and Columbia rivers. The Ninth Circuit rejected EPA’s request that the court reconsider its December 20, 2019, opinion, which ordered EPA to protect salmon. Warm water, caused by large, shallow reservoirs and intensifying climate change, threatens the Columbia and Snake rivers’ already imperiled salmon and steelhead.
On December 20, 2019, the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of conservation and trade groups, which sued EPA for failure to address the hot water crisis on the Snake and Columbia rivers. The groups are represented by the public interest law firm Advocates for the West. Today, the Ninth Circuit refused to hear additional appeals.
“EPA’s delay tactics are finally used up. It’s time to get to work to write a comprehensive plan to deal with dams’ impacts on water temperature and salmon survival,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper.
“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 to let hot water kill otherwise-healthy adult salmon before they can spawn. We’re glad EPA will finally do its job.”
"Hot water in the lower Snake and Columbia rivers has been a year-in, year-out problem for endangered salmon,” said Nic Nelson, Executive Director of Idaho Rivers United. “This victory will create more protections for endangered species that are an indelible part of our northwest way of life, culture, economy, and heritage."
"This decision represents a clear victory for critically endangered salmon and steelhead populations” said Snake River Waterkeeper Buck Ryan. “EPA must now act to protect what remains of the once-magnificent anadromous fisheries on the Snake, Clearwater, and Salmon rivers by ensuring water temperatures stay cool enough to allow passage for spawning.
EPA cannot seek additional review by the Ninth Circuit but could ask the United States Supreme Court for review.
Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources brought the suit. The court found that EPA has failed to undertake its mandatory duty to issue a temperature TMDL, stating: “The time has come--EPA must do so now.” The temperature TMDL, or Total Maximum Daily Load, is a Clean Water Act pollution plan designed to protect salmon from hot water in the Columbia and Snake rivers.
The groups are represented by the law firm Advocates for the West. Advocates for the West litigates to protect western public lands, waters, and wildlife.
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 is fighting to protect salmon from hot water caused by dams and climate change.