Last week, the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice sent a 60-day notice of intent to file a lawsuit challenging a federal plan that relies on increased spill to improve conditions for migrating salmon and steelhead on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
The notice was filed on behalf of a coalition of fishing and conservation groups that contend that the only solution to restore anadromous fish runs is to remove the four dams on the lower Snake River. They say that migrating through the dams is itself difficult for the fish, and rising water temperatures caused by the slackwater reservoirs make the passage increasingly deadly.
In 2016, a U.S. District Court in Portland invalidated the biological analysis underpinning a 10-year operations plan for 14 federal dams and reservoirs. It was the fifth consecutive analysis rejected by the courts since the 1990s.
This July, in response to the court order, 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.
In a statement Friday, Earthjustice attorney Todd True said thousands of people in the region—including tribal members, scientists, energy experts and fishing businesses—submitted comments telling the agencies to remove the four dams.
“But the Trump administration did not listen and rubber-stamped a plan that yet again fails to take the legally required actions necessary to protect salmon and steelhead,” True said. “So we have no choice but to begin the process of going back to court again.”
Nic Nelson, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, said in the release that “instead of proposing solutions that get us to an abundance of wild fish, this continues down the decades-long path of failed recovery efforts.”
“This plan fails Idaho, the angling and guiding communities, the tribal treaty rights and the ecological integrity of this system that depend upon healthy and increasing populations of what was once one of the greatest Chinook fisheries in the world,” Nelson said.
In a 51-page executive summary of a final environmental impact study for the new 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.
In Friday’s press release, True said that “what we need more urgently than ever is for our senators and members of Congress to step forward and develop a comprehensive solution that will secure a future with abundant salmon, clean energy and prosperous communities.”