IRU sues to prevent lower Snake River dredging

Idaho Rivers United, the Nez Perce Tribe and key allies filed in Federal District Court in Seattle Monday, Nov. 24, challenging the government’s plan to spend millions of dollars dredging the lower Snake River. The government released the final version of its latest plan less than one month before it plans to start dredging.

“Every year, the federal government spends increasing amounts of tax dollars to prop up four obsolete dams on the lower Snake River,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “Our specific claims include violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Water Act”

Built to make Lewiston, Idaho an inland seaport, the dams have devastated Idaho’s iconic wild salmon and steelhead populations, along with other important species like Pacific lamprey. Despite those tremendous harms, the economics of dredging do not add up since barging volume has been on a years-long slide. As 2014 draws to a close, the Walla Walla District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to double down on its fiscal irresponsibility of the past by dredging accumulated sediment from the lower Snake River in and around Lewiston.

“Dredging is not only fiscally irresponsible, it’s bad for salmon, Pacific lamprey and other aquatic species,” Lewis said. “Instead of rushing to begin dredging in December, the Walla Walla District should take a step back and assess the sustainability of the entire lower Snake River Project. The public deserves to know if these projects even pencil out.”

IRU is represented by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm that has represented conservation groups challenging the status quo on the lower Snake River for almost two decades.

“Unfortunately, we’ve all seen this movie before,” said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. “The Corps has again failed to take a hard look at viable fish-friendly alternatives to dredging and has failed to justify the costs of indefinitely maintaining this system, to the detriment of fish and wildlife and the public’s pocketbooks.”