Lawsuit targets Puyallup River salmon productivity

For decades, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians has worked diligently to increase production of salmon above a hydroelectric project on the upper Puyallup River.

Recently, a group of conservation groups filed suit to force changes at the Electron Hydroelectric project, which was recently sold by long-term owners Puget Sound Energy. From a press release:

A coalition of conservation groups filed suit today to protect Puget Sound Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout – all threatened with extinction – from being killed by the Electron hydroelectric project on the Puyallup River.


“Wild salmon and steelhead are part of who we are in the Pacific Northwest, and protecting this habitat is critical to their recovery. This is a clear-cut case of illegal ‘take’ of three species threatened with extinction,” said Andrea Rodgers, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center.


Federal agencies acknowledge that the Electron project kills and harms Endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead. But Electron Dam’s new owner is using it to generate revenue while ignoring its responsibility to comply with the Endangered Species Act and protect these species. Plaintiffs American Rivers and American Whitewater, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, point to Section 9 of the ESA, which prohibits any person from “killing, trapping or harming an endangered species” and has been extended by federal agencies to include threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead.


“Across the Puget Sound region, taxpayers are funding efforts to restore salmon runs. Citizens and businesses are doing their part. It’s simply not fair that the owners of Electron Dam are killing so many fish and haven’t made an effort to try and protect them,” said Michael Garrity, director of the Rivers of Puget Sound and the Columbia Basin program for American Rivers.  “It’s common sense that an energy facility needs a permit and a plan to address its impact on the environment. We’re asking for a hard look into how the operations of this 113-year-old dam can be made compatible with Puget Sound salmon and steelhead recovery.”

Most years, the tribe distributes adult salmon into the upper watershed above Electron to boost future runs. They also manage juvenile ponds that release hundreds of thousands of salmon each spring.

The project usually releases from 20,000 to 50,000 juvenile steelhead each year from the Muckleshoot Tribe’s White River hatchery. This will be the first release of hatchery steelhead from the pond program.


Steelhead returns from the genetic broodstock program have ranged from 210 to 359 adults each year. “It’s encouraging to see this many steelhead come back, given the low release numbers,” Smith said.


Puyallup watershed steelhead stocks have been crashing for the past decade. Puyallup steelhead are also a part of a larger Puget Sound wide stock that is listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.


“No one is sure why steelhead populations in the Puyallup and the rest of South Sound have dropped so much in recent years,” Smith said. “Hopefully, by getting these fish up into the upper watershed, we can continue to help them hold on.”

The tribe has also worked directly on studying the impacts of Electon, participating heavily in a 2010 study (and here).