Court: Leavenworth Federal Fish Hatchery violating Clean Water laws

Federal agencies needs to invest in hatchery upgrades, delayed 38 years

Contacts –

  • Trish Rolfe, Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP),  206.829-8299
  • Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy,  425-788-1167
  • Brian Knutsen, Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC,  503-841-6515

Today, the U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr. ruled that the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery is unlawfully discharging pollutants into Icicle Creek without a Clean Water Act permit. The Hatchery, owned and funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been doing so since 1979.

“The Leavenworth Hatchery is dilapidated and old, with decades of deferred maintenance that needs serious upgrades,” said Dan Von Seggern, staff attorney for the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which operates the Hatchery, has prioritized maximizing production of the hatchery fish at the lowest cost possible while failing to fund projects needed to bring its pollution discharges to Icicle Creek into compliance with the Clean Water Act.”

Icicle Creek is a tributary to the Wenatchee River, and drains a portion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The stream is home to threatened and endangered fish species, including steelhead, Chinook salmon, and bull trout. The Hatchery is located on the banks of Icicle Creek, approximately three miles from the river’s confluence with the Wenatchee River.

The Leavenworth Hatchery raises 1.2 million fish annually in a confined space, generating pollutants that are released untreated into Icicle Creek. Pollutants include disease-control chemicals, pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus, antibiotics, chemicals used for disinfection and other fish culture purposes, residual chemical reagents, salts, and chlorinated water. The phosphorus discharge contributes to violations of water quality standards in Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River

Since 1979, the Hatchery has been operating without a valid pollution permit. Judge Mendoza’s ruling confirms the violation of federal law. To comply with the judge’s ruling, the hatchery will need an updated pollution permit, called an “NPDES” permit, required by the federal Clean Water Act. Obtaining this permit and complying with its limits on pollutants will force the federal hatchery to undertake long-delayed upgrades, including wastewater treatment technology to protect Icicle Creek.

“This decision should be a wake-up call to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “Over the past fifteen years we have worked with local citizens and representatives of state, federal, and tribal agencies to try to get the Leavenworth Hatchery to comply with state and federal laws to protect and restore native fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act, and to restore the integrity of the Icicle Creek ecosystem. The Service needs to invest in substantial improvements, including wastewater treatment and fish ponds.”

The Leavenworth Hatchery is part of a controversial process convened by the Washington Department of Ecology and known as the Icicle Work Group. Hatchery improvements are on the list of IWG goals, but are proposed only in exchange for diverting water from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness for municipal supply for the City of Leavenworth. “The Court ruling makes clear that Hatchery improvements are required under the Clean Water Act, and are not a bargaining chip for IWG’s controversial proposals to raise dams and drain more water from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness,” noted Von Seggern.

The Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery was constructed between 1939 and 1941 near Leavenworth, Washington, as partial mitigation for massive salmon losses that resulted from building Grand Coulee Dam.

Wild Fish Conservancy and CELP are represented by Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC of Portland, OR and Seattle, WA.