Idaho Power is asking an Oregon judge to dismiss a lawsuit in Multnomah County brought by two conservation groups challenging the issuance of a water quality certification for the utility's Hells Canyon Complex.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission needs the certification before it can issue a new license for Idaho Power's three hydroelectric projects on the Snake River.

After years of stalemate, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and its Idaho counterpart agreed last year to issue the certification under a settlement that commits the utility to spend more than $400 million over 50 years on measures that include a mercury study and projects to reduce Snake River water temperatures.

Pacific Rivers and Idaho Rivers United filed the lawsuit, asking a judge to review the Oregon DEQ's decision, saying it violates state requirements to provide fish passage and fails to provide reasonable assurances water quality standards will be met.

The judge allowed Idaho Power, which was not named in the suit, to intervene as a respondent. The company then filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying Pacific Rivers and Idaho Rivers United lack standing to sue. The groups are not party to the agency proceedings, and therefore must show they are "adversely affected or aggrieved" by the decision, the motion states. "For a person to have standing, 'the agency's [order must] legally affect the petitioner in some way,'" it says.

Greg Haller, executive director of Portland-based Pacific Rivers, said, "We clearly have standing. Our organization has been involved in the [water quality] certification, we've spent resources educating the public about the issues, and it's germane to our organization's mission."

Haller said the Hells Canyon Complex was supposed to be built with fish passage, but experimental passage didn't work, so the company built hatcheries as mitigation instead. "There are many, many tributaries that used to get salmon and steelhead that provided fisheries to communities and tribal nations for a very long time," he said.

He added, "The next license will be for 50 years, so the decisions we make today are going to have enormous implications for the future of water quality and salmon in the Snake River."

Idaho Power has not sought to dismiss a similar suit against the Oregon DEQ, brought in Marion County Circuit Court by the Nez Perce Tribe.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.