For immediate release, May 4, 2017
- Trish Rolfe, Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP), 206.829-8299
- Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, 425-788-1167
- Brian Knutsen, Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC, 503-841-651
Court: Leavenworth Federal Fish Hatchery violating Clean Water laws
Federal agencies required to upgrade federal fish hatchery to protect Icicle Creek, Wenatchee River – after 38 years of delay
On May 3, the U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr. issued an injunction against the federal fish hatchery at Leavenworth, WA, after ruling in January that the hatchery was unlawfully discharging pollutants to Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River. The latest court order provides that the injunctive requirements will terminate if and when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues a pollution discharge permit to the hatchery. The federal facility, funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been unlawfully discharging without the required permit since 1979.
“This is an important victory for Icicle Creek,” said Dan Von Seggern, staff attorney for the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “The Leavenworth Hatchery is dilapidated and old, with decades of deferred maintenance that needs serious upgrades. This is unacceptable under the Clean Water Act and harms the public’s interest in Icicle Creek. The court’s Order will result in state-of-the-art upgrades at the hatchery resulting in decreased water use and improved treatment. The result will be cleaner water and higher flows in the stream.”
Since 1979, the Hatchery has been operating without a valid pollution permit. Judge Mendoza’s January ruled confirmed the violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The May 3 injunction requires the hatchery to reduce the amount of phosphorus it discharges by September 1, 2019, to the amount necessary for Icicle Creek to meet water quality standards designed to support salmon and other fish. The Court’s injunction leaves open the opportunity for the Hatchery to obtain a new discharge permit, called an “NPDES” permit, from EPA, in which case that permit would set the schedule for the Hatchery to reduce its phosphorus discharges. Either way, the Hatchery will be forced to undertake long-delayed upgrades, including wastewater treatment technology to protect Icicle Creek.
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 Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River failing to meet water quality standards for dissolved oxygen and pH.
“This court decision will require the federal agency to do what it should have done long ago: invest in hatchery upgrades,” 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 bring the Leavenworth Hatchery into compliance 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. Now the federal agency is under court order to do so.”
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 injunction holds the promise of a new chapter at the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery – in which federal officials are committed to clean water, instream flows, and producing hatchery fish,” said attorney Brian Knutsen, of Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC. “No longer can decades of delay in hatchery upgrades be used as a bargaining chip to raise dams and drain more water from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.”
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.
CELP is represented by Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC of Portland, OR and Seattle, WA.