A coalition of conservation groups filed suit today to protect Puget Sound Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout – all threatened with extinction – from being killed by the Electron hydroelectric project on the Puyallup River.

“Wild salmon and steelhead are part of who we are in the Pacific Northwest, and protecting this habitat is critical to their recovery. This is a clear-cut case of illegal ‘take’ of three species threatened with extinction,” said Andrea Rodgers, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. 

Federal agencies acknowledge that the Electron project kills and harms Endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead. But Electron Dam’s new owner is using it to generate revenue while ignoring its responsibility to comply with the Endangered Species Act and protect these species. Plaintiffs American Rivers and American Whitewater, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, point to Section 9 of the ESA, which prohibits any person from “killing, trapping or harming an endangered species” and has been extended by federal agencies to include threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead.

“Across the Puget Sound region, taxpayers are funding efforts to restore salmon runs. Citizens and businesses are doing their part. It’s simply not fair that the owners of Electron Dam are killing so many fish and haven’t made an effort to try and protect them,” said Michael Garrity, director of the Rivers of Puget Sound and the Columbia Basin program for American Rivers.  “It’s common sense that an energy facility needs a permit and a plan to address its impact on the environment. We’re asking for a hard look into how the operations of this 113-year-old dam can be made compatible with Puget Sound salmon and steelhead recovery.”

“Hydropower provides many benefits for our region, but those benefits are not without impacts to aquatic ecosystems including fish and wildlife, recreation and overall river health,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director for American Whitewater. “Those who own and manage hydropower facilities in the region have a responsibility to operate their projects in compliance with environmental laws and regulations. Given the significant public investment in river restoration in this region, we can’t allow that investment to be compromised by projects that are not able to meet current regulations.” 

Historically, the Puyallup River watershed supported approximately 42,000 Chinook salmon. A 2007 National Marine Fisheries Service recovery plan for salmon estimates a current population of only 1,300 Chinook salmon in the watershed. The Puyallup also historically supported a healthy run of steelhead and bull trout. In 2007, NMFS listed steelhead trout in Puget Sound, including in the Puyallup River, as threatened with extinction under the ESA.

In 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the populations of bull trout in the Coastal/Puget Sound region in Washington, including in the Puyallup River, as threatened with extinction under the ESA. These bull trout populations include an anadromous form (spawning in rivers and streams but rearing young in the ocean) – the only one of its kind in the entire U.S.

The Puyallup River, which flows from Mt. Rainier to Commencement Bay in Puget Sound, is one of eight “core areas” for bull trout in the Puget Sound region, and a local population exists in the upper Puyallup River, where higher elevations produce the cool water temperatures they require. In 2004, USFWS issued a draft recovery plan for Coastal/Puget Sound bull trout, which lists an abundance target for bull trout in the Puyallup River at 1,000 adults. By contrast, as of 2004 the population totals fewer than 100 adults.

A copy of the complaint is available here.

Andrea Rodgers, attorney, Western Environmental Law Center, 206-696-2851,  
Michael Garrity, American Rivers, 206-852-5583, Thomas O’Keefe, Ph.D., American Whitewater, 425-417-9012, 

Read more about our work to protect these fish species here.

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