IRU, Columbia Riverkeeper, and Partners Battle for Solution to Hot Water That is Killing Salmon

On Monday, August 26th, Idaho Rivers United and many of our partners in conservation are fighting for our salmon and steelhead before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals during oral arguments in Seattle.  We are fighting for the cool, clean water that these imperiled fish require. 

Salmon are dying because the Columbia and Snake rivers are too hot. According to water quality standards, maximum water temperature should not exceed 68°F in the Columbia and Snake rivers.  Large, shallow reservoirs along the river cause water temperatures to rise beyond 68°F frequently during the summer months, affecting salmon’s ability to survive. When water temperatures reach beyond 70°F, salmon die.  

The Northwest has firsthand experience with salmon dying from hot water. In 2015, 250,000 adult sockeye salmon died in the Columbia River Basin due to warm water. Nearly the entire Idaho-bound sockeye run perished. 

Amplified by intensifying climate change, record-high water temperatures continue to be reached in reservoirs along the Snake and Columbia rivers.  These high-water temperatures pose an increasingly serious threat to salmon and steelhead. 

IRU and our partners are challenging the Environmental Protection Agency in their failure to uphold the legal requirements to create a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) analysis for addressing the high water temperatures in the Snake and Columbia rivers. Alongside the Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources, our arguments will be brought before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 26th at 9:00 a.m. 

The Backstory:

In 2003, the EPA developed a draft temperature TMDL that was released for public comment. It was initiated by several states asking the EPA to devise a plan to address temperature pollution in the Columbia and Snake rivers.  

EPA’s preliminary results showed that the large, shallow reservoirs on the Columbia and Snake rivers were making the river too hot.  When the EPA’s findings showed that these reservoirs – the result of dams – were the main cause of temperature issues, the federal government shelved the draft TMDL.  The TMDL was never developed. 

The EPA’s failure to complete a TMDL analysis for temperature pollution in the Columbia and Snake rivers is unacceptable.  Our salmon and steelhead are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and becoming increasingly imperiled by rising temperatures, warm reservoirs, and costly, outdated dam infrastructure.  

In 2018, a federal judge agreed with IRU and ordered the EPA to produce a TMDL within the next 30 days. The EPA appealed it’s defeat to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

The Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments in our case on August 26, 2019 in Seattle. IRU and our conservation partners are represented by Advocates for the West, a Boise based public interest law firm. 

What This Means:

If this precedent-setting decision is upheld by the Ninth Circuit, the EPA will be required to complete a temperature TMDL for the lower Snake and Columbia rivers.  The temperature TMDL is an important first step in reducing water temperature and protecting salmon. 

For more history on this case, please visit our website. 

How You Can Help: 

William Jefferson Clinton Building 

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W.

Mail Code: 1101A

Washington, DC 20460

  • Show up: You are invited to watch the oral argument on Monday, August 26, 9 a.m., 7th Floor Courtroom 2, William K. Nakamura Courthouse, Seattle Washington. Arrive early in order to pass through security and be seated in the courtroom before 9:00 a.m.

  • Become a member or make a donation: By becoming a member, you join in our work to restore and protect Idaho’s rivers. Your contributions make it possible for IRU to take action. 

Additional Information & Resources: