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Salmon Advocates Sue Government Over Low Flows in Snake/Columbia Rivers and Tributaries

Press Release
Earthjustice - February 22, 2000

Idaho Irrigation Water at Stake

SEATTLE, WA--A coalition of conservation and fishermens’ groups today filed a lawsuit against three federal government agencies over inadequate water flows in the Snake and Columbia Rivers and their tributaries. Flow problems in these rivers harm salmon and steelhead listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"). The groups seek a court order that the government must immediately increase the amount of water devoted to augmenting flows in the rivers.

In 1995, the National Marine Fisheries Service ("NMFS") set the minimum flow targets in the Snake and Columbia Rivers necessary for salmon and steelhead survival, and ordered the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to increase water flows to meet these targets. The agencies for several years have failed to undertake most of these measures, and flows in the Snake and Columbia, and many of their tributaries, continue to fall well below the minimum necessary to avoid serious harm to listed salmon and steelhead.

"Yet again, the government has failed to live up to its obligation to protect at-risk fish species," said Glen Spain of the PCFFA. "The commercial fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the fish can’t wait any longer for the government to play by its own rules. The agencies’ neglect of this issue has cost the whole lower river and coastal economy thousands of fishing jobs." Todd True of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund added, "There’s no question that if the government doesn’t restore dangerously low flows, then Snake River salmon and steelhead simply aren’t going to survive. Time for the fish is running out."

"Water for salmon and steelhead is not just a problem in the mainstem of the Columbia and Snake Rivers," said Reed Benson, Executive Director of WaterWatch of Oregon. "The federal government operates water projects that deplete the flows of many smaller rivers throughout the Northwest, rivers salmon need for spawning and rearing," he concluded. "This lawsuit aims to force the government to take the kind of comprehensive look at its water management programs in the Columbia and Snake basins that the law requires and that the government should have taken long ago," said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations, the Institute for Fisheries Resources, Trout Unlimited, WaterWatch of Oregon, and the Sierra Club. They are represented by Todd True and Jan Hasselman of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund in Seattle, and Dan Rohlf of the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center in Portland. Defendants are NMFS, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Todd True/Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund: (206) 343-7340
Dan Rohlf, Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center: (503) 768-6707
Glen Spain, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations: (541) 689-2000
Reed Benson, WaterWatch of Oregon: (503) 295-4039

Press Release
Salmon Advocates Sue Government Over Low Flows in Snake/Columbia Rivers and Tributaries
Earthjustice February 22, 2000

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