Major victory for Columbia-Snake River salmon

American Rivers won a major victory in our 15-year old lawsuit challenging the federal government’s failure to adequately protect endangered salmon in operating dams in the Columbia River system.

Lower Monumental Lock and Dam on the Snake River, WA | USACE

American Rivers and our partners have won a major victory in our 15-year old lawsuit challenging the federal government’s failure to adequately protect endangered salmon in the operation of dams in the Columbia River system.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon ruled that the 2014 Biological Opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service did not adequately consider the impacts of continued dam operations on threatened and endangered salmon as required by the Endangered Species Act. In particular, the court found that the federal government had failed to adequately consider the impacts of climate change on the Columbia River system. In addition, the court found that the federal government had failed to prepare an environmental impact statement considering a range of alternatives for the Columbia River system, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Judge Simon specifically noted:

Congress enacted the National Environmental Policy Act to ensure a process in which all reasonable alternatives are given a “hard look” and all necessary information is provided to the public. In addition, a central purpose of an environmental impact statement is “to force the consideration of environmental impacts in the decisionmaking process.” For example, the option of breaching, bypassing, or even removing a dam may be considered more financially prudent and environmentally effective than spending hundreds of millions of dollars more on uncertain habitat restoration and other alternative actions.

Judge Simon ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to create a new biological opinion and an environmental impact statement no later than March 1, 2018.

This is the fifth time in this long-running litigation that a federal judge has found that the operation of the dams on the Columbia River system, which includes the four lower Snake River dams, jeopardizes the continued existence of endangered salmon. This latest ruling makes clear that the federal government must consider the option of breaching, bypassing, or removing dams in evaluating alternatives for operation of the Columbia River system.

Along with other national and regional conservation groups, we are represented in the litigation by attorneys from Earthjustice. While much work remains, today American Rivers and our partners are celebrating this important victory.

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