IRU sues EPA to prevent heat-driven salmon kills

IRU is part of a coalition of Columbia River Basin organizations that filed suit today to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to create a temperature pollution budget to protect endangered salmon and steelhead.

The groups include Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources. They are represented by Advocates for the West, a Boise-based public interest law firm.

Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s newly confirmed EPA Administrator, has questioned the need to fight climate change. This lawsuit compels the EPA to write a TMDL—a plan to keep the rivers cool enough for salmon and steelhead in the face of global warming.

Dams on the Columbia and Snake create large, slow-moving reservoirs that cause high water temperatures. Warm summer water temperatures pose increasingly severe threats to endangered salmon and steelhead. In 2015, warm water killed roughly 250,000 adult sockeye salmon migrating up the rivers. In response to the 2015 fish kills, the EPA stated that “the need to lower water temperatures becomes more critical as the Pacific Northwest Region continues to address . . . climate change.” 

Following are statements by representatives for the plaintiffs.

  • “Water temperatures in the Columbia mean life or death to salmon. Our members’ livelihoods depend on healthy salmon runs,” said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources. “It’s simply unacceptable to let hot water kill otherwise-healthy adult salmon before they can spawn.” 
  • “We need a plan to deal with climate change and rising water temperatures in the Columbia, or we may be telling our kids stories about salmon instead of teaching them to fish,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper.
  • “Salmon and steelhead cannot be allowed to slide further toward extinction because of known increases in water temperatures” said Buck Ryan, Executive Director of Snake River Waterkeeper. “Instead of hoping rivers don’t get hot enough each year to kill hundreds of thousands of fish like in 2015, we’re demanding that agencies make a plan to lower temperatures so endangered populations can spawn and recover.”
  • “The hot water tragedy of 2015 was unfortunately a predictable disaster,” said Idaho Rivers United Executive Director Kevin Lewis. “For too long federal agencies have sat on their hands while our region’s signature species suffered. We asked the EPA to address this issue last August, but the agency came up short. We can’t stand by and allow our salmon to land in hot water again.”

The groups are represented by Bryan Hurlbutt, an attorney at Advocates for the West, a public interest nonprofit environmental law firm based in Boise. Plaintiffs are also represented by Richard Smith, attorney at Smith and Lowney PLLC in Seattle.