Environmental law firm Earthjustice on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Oregon challenging the latest federal plan for hydropower operations on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Ten environmental and fishing organizations are listed as plaintiffs.
The current operating plan was created in response to a 2016 decision by the federal court in Portland invalidating the biological analysis underpinning a 10-year operations plan for the 14 federal dams and reservoirs in the system. It was the fifth consecutive analysis rejected by the courts since the 1990s.
In July 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration issued a new plan that includes releasing more water for fish passage in the spring during times when power generation is in low demand.
The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit claim that will not be enough to restore salmon and steelhead populations.
“Extensive evidence indicates that breaching the four lower Snake River dams would provide more certainty of achieving the kind of long-term survival and stable, sustainable population levels … than would any other measure or combination of measures that do not include dam breaching,” the plaintiffs state in their 72-page complaint.
In an executive summary of a final environmental impact statement for the current operations plan released in August, the federal agencies noted that only Congress can order removal of the dams. They also stated that breaching them would not allow the Corps of Engineers to operate the dams for their other congressionally authorized purposes of navigation, hydropower, recreation and water supply.