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NW Fishletter #376, December 4, 2017

[7] Lawsuit Pending Over Willamette River Chinook and Steelhead

Three environmental groups have given notice of their intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over alleged harm to upper Willamette River Chinook and steelhead.

Advocates for the West said in a Nov. 2 statement the Corps had 60 days to take action to work with National Marine Fisheries Service "to develop a new plan to reform dam management in the basin before it is too late to save these iconic species."

The group filed the letter of intent on behalf of the Native Fish Society, Northwest Environmental Defense Center and WildEarth Guardians, all of Oregon.

This is, potentially, the second recent lawsuit over salmonids in the Willamette River, which is the third-largest tributary of the Columbia River. In March, two environmental groups sued to stop Corps' funding of hatchery summer steelhead releases in the upper Willamette Basin.

The Corps operates 13 dams on the upper Willamette River and its tributaries, which block a substantial amount of the basin's fish-spawning habitat and alter the rivers' natural hydrology.

In a 2008 BiOp, NMFS determined that the dams jeopardize the survival and recovery of threatened Chinook and steelhead unless changes--outlined in a list of Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA) measures--are made to dam operations and fish management.

The 60-day letter of intent claims the Corps has delayed or missed RPA deadlines to improve conditions for these Endangered Species Act-protected fish and singles out requirements to provide downstream passage for juvenile fish migrating through the agency's dams and reservoirs.

The fish advocates acknowledged the Corps has made some progress, but said the actions have not been enough.

"Recent information shows that the status of Upper Willamette River Chinook and steelhead has not improved, and in fact many populations have declined, during the first nine years of the BiOp," the letter states.

The 60-day notice says NEDC, WildEarth Guardian and Native Fish Society "are interested in discussing ways to resolve these issues without litigation."

However, the groups have not asked the agency for a meeting, Corps spokesman Tom Conning told NW Fishletter in an early November email. -Laura Berg

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: Laura Berg
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