PORTLAND, Ore. – Today, May 20th, a Washington Superior Court judge ruled against salmon fishermen, businesses, and advocates in a lawsuit looking to ensure that Washington’s water quality standards protect salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake rivers. The ruling comes after a series of petitions to the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) to heed the best available science and revise Washington’s existing so-called Total Dissolved Gas (TDG) limits to assist young salmon making their journey to the sea. The Court deferred to Ecology’s decision and declined to order the agency to change its Clean Water Act standards.
“We’re disappointed with the decision today,“ said Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (NSIA) Executive Director Liz Hamilton. “The issue of whether we do more for salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers is synonymous with whether we’re serious about protecting fishing families. It’s not just about salmon; it’s also about our businesses and all the people they employ because of salmon.”
This revision in the dissolved gas standard would have brought Washington's Clean Water Act standards in the Columbia and Snake rivers in line with salmon science in the Basin and would have allowed for more spill at the dams. However, the court’s decision means – at least for the short-term -- that salmon and steelhead will have a harder migration past these dams. Ecology’s refusal to make this standard more protective is a missed opportunity to ensure that up to 9% more salmon and steelhead survive their trip to the ocean.
Says Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda in response to the ruling, “It’s unfortunate that we’re arguing with Ecology about this when every fisheries manager in the region agrees that making the standard more protective is necessary to help endangered salmon. We’ll be reviewing this decision closely to consider an appeal because it’s simply too important for our businesses and for salmon in the region.”