By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
SPOKANE — Environmental and fishing groups sued the federal government on Thursday as they seek cooler water for salmon in the Columbia River system.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Seattle against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the agency.
“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.
The lawsuit was filed by Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources.
It seeks to compel the EPA to create temperature limits for the river system that would keep rivers cool enough to support salmon and steelhead runs in the face of global warming, the groups said.
Giant dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers create large, slow-moving reservoirs that cause water temperatures to rise in summer months. Warm temperatures pose significant threats to salmon and steelhead.
The groups contend that in 2015, warm water killed roughly 250,000 adult sockeye salmon migrating up the rivers toward spawning grounds.
“Water temperatures in the Columbia mean life or death to salmon,” said Glen Spain, a director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Our members’ livelihoods depend on healthy salmon runs.”
“It’s simply unacceptable to let hot water kill otherwise-healthy adult salmon before they can spawn,” Spain said.
The impact of Columbia River basin dams on fish runs in the Pacific Northwest has been an issue for decades.
A federal judge ruled last May that the U.S. government hasn’t done enough to improve Northwest salmon runs and ordered an environmental impact statement that’s due out in 2021, urging officials to consider removing four big dams on the Snake River.
The review process is being conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, an umbrella law that covers the Endangered Species Act. Thirteen species of salmon and steelhead on the Columbia and Snake rivers have been listed as federally protected over the past 25 years.
The Snake River dams are Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite, and are located between the Tri-Cities and Pullman. They’re the four lowest dams on the 1,000-mile-long Snake River, itself a tributary to the Columbia River. They were built in the 1960s and 1970s.
Advocates for the dams say they provide many benefits, including electricity, irrigation water and barge traffic, and should not be removed.