Fearful of the potential for harm to salmon and trout, conservation groups have gone to court to get Electron Hydro LLC to change practices that they say are killing the endangered fish in the Puyallup River in Washington State.
The groups, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, said the 113-year-old dam’s new owners are not taking measures to protect Puget Sound Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout, all on the Endangered Species List, from the fallout of the dam’s operations.
“Federal agencies acknowledge that the Electron project kills and harms Endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead,” the Western Environmental Law Center said in a statement when it filed the suit on January 12. “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.”
According to the law center, the dam works by diverting water from the Puyallup River into a pool that traps the fish, leaving them vulnerable to predation and turbidity. If they make it through that, they risk being “destroyed in powerhouse turbines and penstocks,” the center said. A trap-and-haul apparatus designed to grab the fish before they meet this fate does not always catch them, and some die during the capture attempt, the law center said. Further, Electron Hydro does not have a federal permit to kill the threatened fish, the complaint alleges.
Electron Hydro did not issue a statement about the lawsuit, but it does highlight its fish-passage-enhancement program on the company website.
“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, in a statement from the Western Environmental Law Center. “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.”