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State Supreme Court ruling removes public, legislature voice from river flow decisions, gives Ecology total control

Decision harms recreational users and businesses statewide, devaluing recreation as a river use

For immediate release: August 7, 2020

Contact:

SPOKANE, Wash. – Today the State Supreme Court ruled against protecting flows in the Spokane River, rejecting arguments of river advocates, upholding the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology)’s drought-level flow rate decision. The decision subverts the will of the state legislature, granting total control over river flows in Washington state to Ecology and establishes a superficial role for public input the agency is free to ignore. Nothing in the court’s decision, however, prevents Ecology from restoring Spokane River flow rates to levels that will sustain and restore fish, support the recreation economy, and revive the river character of Spokane.

At the center of the conflict between river advocates and Washington state officials is whether water flowing in the Spokane River during hot summer months should be protected for community recreational and aesthetic use, river fish, and wildlife – or if Ecology should be allowed to take more water from the river by granting more water rights.

The State Supreme Court decision dooms the Spokane River to drought flows every summer. With such low flows set by the state, salmon will not return to the Spokane River.”

Trish Rolfe, executive director of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy.

In July 2019, the State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Sierra Club, CELP and American Whitewater, holding that the Washington Department of Ecology failed to protect Spokane River flows as required by the Water Resources Act. Ecology appealed, and yesterday the State Supreme court ruled in the agency’s favor.

“We brought this case because we believed the law was clear: Ecology was required to protect the Spokane River to protect and when possible enhance wildlife, fish, scenic, aesthetic and other environmental values, while also protecting navigation. Despite this clear direction from the legislature, this ruling allows Ecology to pick and choose winners and losers, literally leaving some folks high and dry.”

Andrew Hawley, Staff Attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center

“This State Supreme Court ruling harms recreational users and businesses statewide by devaluing recreational use of rivers. In the interstate conflict between Idaho and Washington over water, the Evergreen State failed to protect water for Washingtonians.”

John Osborn, physician and Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group conservation chair.

“The Spokane River is an incredible community resource for recreation and public enjoyment. We are disappointed that this week’s ruling sets the path toward lower flows, reduced river health, and fewer opportunities for recreational boaters. Despite today’s ruling that will make our work more challenging, we remain committed to continue our work to protect instream flows.“

Thomas O’Keefe, American Whitewater’s Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director.

Background:

Beloved and imperiled, the Spokane River flows through the second-largest city in Washington state, cascading over spectacular waterfalls and cutting a deep gorge. In most summers, enough water flows in the river to support fishing, river rafting, and other outdoor recreation. River advocates asked the court to hold the Department of Ecology (Ecology) to its duty to protect fish and wildlife, scenic, aesthetic and recreational values, and navigation, when establishing the minimum summer flows allowable for the Spokane River.

In setting instream flows, Ecology failed to account for boaters who use the Spokane River, fishermen who pursue the river’s wild redband trout, and businesses that depend on river-based recreation. Ecology also failed to conduct a basic assessment of the scenic values of the Spokane River as it flows through the gorge and Riverside State Park – important to users of the Centennial Trail and others.

Overall, Ecology ignored all public comments in support of protecting the Spokane River and adopted unchanged its flow rule of 850 cubic feet per second (CFS) – near-drought level river flows that will jeopardize the Spokane River and its public uses.

Need to protect recreational use of the Spokane River

In the proceedings, the foremost national experts on recreation and aesthetic flow concluded Ecology’s adopted flows are inadequate to support most types of recreational boating on the river.

Fish need water

Spokane River fisheries need cold, abundant water. Today, the State Supreme Court upheld Ecology’s “data-free” conclusion that 850 CFS is best for fish as justification of its decision not to protect higher Spokane River flows.

Issue experts concluded the state’s flow rule – setting the Spokane River flow rate below the Monroe Street Dam in the summer at 850 CFS – is inadequate to protect and restore a healthy redband trout population, and that the study prepared to support the State’s chosen river flow was flawed. Ecology could have accommodated the needs of other water users without sacrificing fish.

Protecting aesthetics in the city’s heart

“Our city owes its origins, its beauty, and a great deal of its past and present life to the Spokane River.  It would be a betrayal of the river and our identity if we did not maintain healthy and aesthetic river flows.”

– Tom Soeldner, Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group based in Spokane

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Honoring Spokane businesses, American Whitewater for River Protection

For Immediate Release (February 26)

Honoring event will launch campaign to protect Spokane River, a test case for rivers statewide

Contacts:

Summary: The 13th annual Winter Waters celebration is jointly hosted by the Upper Columbia River Group of Sierra Club and CELP.  UCR Group, based in Spokane, will honor “Spokane River Flow Champions.”   Link to event webpage.

Who is being honored:

Timing, historical significance:    2020 is a pivotal year for protecting a clean, flowing Spokane River.  Decisions about how to manage water quantity and quality in the Spokane River have consequences for rivers throughout Washington.

Protecting Spokane River summertime flows.   In July 2019, the State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Sierra Club, CELP and American Whitewater, holding that the Washington Department of Ecology failed to protect Spokane River flows as required by the Water Resources Act. (link). Ecology appealed, and on May 14 the state Supreme Court will hear oral argument on the case.

Spokane businesses – ROW Adventures (Peter Grubb), Silver Bow Fly Shop (Sean Visintainer), and FLOW Adventures (Jon Wilmot) – actively assisted in the petition and lawsuit asking the State to recognize and protect impacted businesses when setting flows for the Spokane River.  

The Upper Columbia River Group is also honoring Thomas O’Keefe of American Whitewater, for his central role in protecting the Spokane River.  American Whitewater is the primary advocate for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers throughout the United States.  

Cleaning up the Spokane River’s PCB pollution.  Water quality in the Spokane River is already compromised, and now faces two major threats, from both the Trump Administration and the State of Washington.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rolled back fish consumption standards that control toxic PCBs.  These watered-down standards threaten public health.

The Department of Ecology is also weakening clean water standards through its new “Variance” process, which will allow municipal and industrial polluters to continue to put large quantities of PCBs into the Spokane River.  In 2020, the State will hold public meetings and take public comment on the Variance proposal. 

Launching a statewide campaign for a clean, flowing Spokane River.  At the March 6 honoring event, Sierra Club will launch a statewide effort to involve the public in agency decisions regarding the Spokane River.  With tribes leading efforts to restore salmon to the Upper Columbia Basin, Sierra Club’s campaign seeks clean, flowing water to support the return of spawning salmon to the Spokane River.

When: Friday, March 6th, 2020 6:00 pm- 9:00 pm 

Where: Spokane’s Historic Patsy Clark Mansion, 2208 W. 2nd Ave

Tickets: $40 per person, $70 for two (purchase online or at the door-please RSVP).  

Quotes (from the legal challenge to protect summertime flows, Spokane River):

       Peter Grubb, ROW Adventures:

“The importance of the Spokane River to those living and recreating in the area cannot be overstated. In fact, I believe that the Spokane River offers the best natural whitewater experience available in a major U.S. city. It offers a whitewater experience that is accessible to a broad cross-section of users, from beginning rafters to experienced whitewater paddlers.” 

“The 850 cfs [cubic feet per second] flow that was enacted as a minimum flow in the final Spokane River Instream Flow Rule could eliminate a major portion of our business. We have found that the whitewater trips at higher flows are more popular with clients than the float trips at lower flows. Because the Instream Flow Rule only protects low river flows (e.g. 850 cfs) for much of the summer season, it would reduce the amount of time that we can run whitewater trips and our business would be adversely affected.”

       Sean Visintainer, Silver Bow Fly Shop:

“River flow is critical for my business. In addition to absolute water levels, the aesthetics of the river determine how likely clients are to want to fish. At 750 cfs fishing the Spokane is far less attractive, and even at 850 cfs people are likely to choose other activities over fishing.  I believe that a higher minimum summer flow would be very helpful to my business. The river habitat is more productive for fish at higher levels, and the aesthetics are much better than at lower flows. At or below 850 cfs, the habitat where fish are found is more fragmented, water temperatures may be higher in some stretches, which is not good for trout, and the water moves at a much slower pace.
I estimate that we lost approximately 40 guiding days in the summer of 2015 due to the low river flows. At times we were unable to navigate portions of the river due to low water. Fishing restrictions due to the low flows and high temperatures (fishing was restricted to before 2:00 PM) also reduced fishing opportunities.”

       Jon Wilmot, FLOW Adventures:

“The Spokane River is a critical amenity for the city of Spokane and the surrounding area, and is one of the most popular recreational features of the area. Because of its proximity to the city, it is possible to run half-day or one-day trips without the need to drive significant distances. This outstanding accessibility makes Spokane River trips feasible for visitors with limited time. I am not aware of any other city that has this kind of local whitewater experience available to visitors. I depend on the River for a major portion of my business, and my ability to operate on the River is dependent on adequate instream flows.”

Event sponsors:  * Upper Columbia United Tribes * Adventure Travel Trade Association/Adventure 360 * Eymann Allison Jones Law Firm * Northwest Whitewater Association * American Whitewater  * Hydropower Reform Coalition * Columbia Institute for Water Policy * Rachael & John Osborn * Linda Finney & Tom Soeldner * Morton Alexander & Paige Kenney * Joyce & John Roskelley * Suzy Dix-Windermere * Allen “AT” Miller-Lukins & Annis Attorneys at Law * Jeff Lambert * Kathy Dixon & Barbara Rasero * Fred Christ *


Court: State failed to protect Spokane River’s summertime flows

For immediate release

June 27, 2019

Appeals court sides with Spokane River advocates:  State failed to protect Spokane River summertime flows

Contacts:

SPOKANE – On June 26, 2019, the Washington State Court of Appeals Division II ruled in favor of Spokane River advocates, finding that the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) failed to protect summertime flows needed by the river, and thousands of boaters, fishers, anglers, and businesses.  The court, in rejecting Ecology’s Spokane River rule, underscored that the agency arbitrarily disregarded thousands of public comments, boater surveys, an analysis comparing the aesthetics of different flows, and testimony of river-dependent businesses.

Ecology adopted the Spokane River flow regulation in 2015. Water advocacy groups Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP), American Whitewater, and Sierra Club filed an appeal, arguing that the state was required to consider all uses of the river, not just fishery uses, in adopting an instream flow regulation or rule for the river. The court agreed, holding that Ecology did not have discretion to disregard recreational and aesthetic use of the river.

“During hot summer months, Spokane River flows must be protected for community recreational and aesthetic use, as well as fish and wildlife,” said John Osborn, conservation chair for the local Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group. “The Department of Ecology, which has a long record of issuing water rights to the point of endangering rivers and aquifers, should not be allowed to further degrade the Spokane River by leaving open the door for more water rights.”

The court ruled:

  • “The [Spokane] river is a central feature of the region’s identity, and Spokane residents view the river as an integral part of their community. (Opinion, p.3)
  • Ecology may not “narrowly protect only one instream value that Ecology deems ‘best’”, but must “meaningfully consider a range of instream values . . .” (Opinion, p. 17)
  • “Ecology’s explanations for establishing instream flows based only on fish habitat studies without regard to how its proposed flow would protect other values was arbitrary and capricious. Therefore, the resulting Rule is invalid.” (Opinion, p.21)

“The Court recognized that rivers have many valuable uses, and that determining the best flow requires balancing among those uses. If fish need a certain flow, that wins out. But here more water would be better for fish as well as recreational uses.  Ecology ignored recreational and aesthetic uses of the river at their peril,” said Andrew Hawley of the Western Environmental Law Center, attorney for the appellants.

“Through the process of setting a minimum instream flow, Ecology chose to ignore the needs of recreational users of the Spokane River,” said Thomas O’Keefe of American Whitewater. “Today the court agreed that a minimum flow of 850 cfs would not be adequate to support rafting, kayaking, and other recreational uses of the river. Ecology must seek to protect multiple instream values and this ruling makes clear that the agency has a responsibility to do that.”

“Today’s decision means Ecology must consider all uses of the river (and other rivers and streams in Washington) and provide meaningful protection of instream values,” said Dan Von Seggern, attorney with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “The Spokane River supports fish populations, rafting and kayaking, summer recreation and riverside habitat. Climate change and increased demand for water will put more and more pressure on these uses of the Spokane in the future. An instream flow rule will protect the river from these threats.  Unfortunately, by ignoring thousands of public comments, considering only fish habitat and protecting only a near-drought level summer streamflow, Ecology failed to consider recreation, navigation and the river ecosystem in general.  We hope that Ecology will now set a summer flow level that considers all of these uses, and protects more of the water that now flows in the River.”

“We hope this decision marks a turning point in how the Department of Ecology approaches its task of protecting the people, fish, and wildlife that depend on healthy rivers,” said Andrew Hawley, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Going forward, we expect to see Ecology make decisions that account for all the beneficial uses our shared rivers have to offer.”

The Department of Ecology could appeal this decision to the Washington Supreme Court, or accept the decision and go back to work on the Spokane River rule, fully involving the community in adoption of a new rule.

Appellants are Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law & Policy and American Whitewater, and are represented by attorneys Dan Von Seggern (CELP) and Andrew Hawley (Western Environmental Law Center).

More background available here.

Court of Appeals’ Ruling on Spokane River Flows:  here.

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Protecting Spokane River summertime flows returns to court

The next step in the process for protecting the River and Spokane community

News advisory:  Feb. 27, 2019

Contacts:

Issue:

When water is flowing in the Spokane River during hot summer months, should water be protected for community recreational and aesthetic use, river fish, and wildlife?   – or should the Department of Ecology allow it to be taken from the river by granting of more water rights?

Where:

Washington State Court of Appeals Division II

950 Broadway #300, Tacoma

When: 

9:00am, Thursday, February 28

Background:

Beloved and imperiled, the Spokane River flows through the second largest city in Washington state, cascading over spectacular waterfalls and cutting a deep gorge. In most summers, enough water flows in the river to support fishing, river rafting, and other outdoor recreation. River advocates are asking the court to hold the Department of Ecology (Ecology) to its duty to protect fish and wildlife, scenic, aesthetic and recreational values, and navigation, when establishing the minimum summer flows allowable for the Spokane River.

Overwhelming public support for the River:  ignored

Nearly 2,000 comments, including boater surveys and aesthetic inventories, were submitted to Ecology during the public comment period on the draft rule. In setting instream flows, Ecology’s decision failed to account for boaters who use the Spokane River, fishermen who pursue the river’s wild redband trout, and businesses that depend on Spokane River recreation. Ecology also failed to conduct a basic assessment of the scenic values of the Spokane River as it flows through the gorge and Riverside State Park – important to users of the Centennial Trail and others.

Overall, Ecology ignored all public comments in support of protecting the Spokane River and adopted unchanged its flow rule of 850 cubic feet per second (CFS) – near-drought level river flows that will jeopardize the Spokane River and its public uses.

Need to protect recreational use of the Spokane River

River advocates retained Dr. Doug Whittaker and Dr. Bo Shelby, experts in recreation and aesthetic flows from Confluence Research and Consulting, to evaluate appropriate flows. Dr. Shelby and Dr. Whittaker participated in establishing aesthetic flows for Spokane Falls, and are the foremost national experts on flows. They concluded that the Department of Ecology’s adopted flows are inadequate to support most types of recreational boating on the river. Higher flows in the Spokane River, when available, should be protected.

Fish need water

Spokane River fisheries need cold, abundant water. The Department of Ecology erred in reaching their “data-free” conclusion that 850 CFS is best for fish to justify its decision not to protect higher Spokane River flows. In response, petitioners submitted a report prepared by Prof. Allan Scholz, retired Eastern Washington University fisheries biologist. (Prof. Scholz authored a multivolume treatise on eastern Washington fisheries, and is one of the foremost experts on Spokane River redband trout.)

Prof. Scholz determined that the state’s flow rule – setting the Spokane River flow rate below the Monroe Street Dam in the summer at 850 CFS – is inadequate to protect and restore a healthy redband trout population, and that the scientific study prepared in support of the rate was flawed. The Department of Ecology could have accommodated the needs of river recreationists and fish without sacrificing fish.

Protecting aesthetics in the city’s heart

“Our city owes its origins, its beauty, and a great deal of its past and present life to the Spokane River.  It would be a betrayal of the river and our identity if we did not maintain healthy and aesthetic river flows.”

– Tom Soeldner, co-chair of Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group based in Spokane.

Flows not protected in the flow rule are flows lost to the river

The Department of Ecology has a duty under state law and the public trust doctrine to adopt flows that are fully protective of all public instream values, including fish and wildlife, recreation, navigation, water quality, and scenic beauty. Again, flows that are not protected are at risk to be diverted from the Spokane River for out-of-stream water uses, including Idaho pumpers, the city of Spokane, and the office of the Columbia River’s Spokane-Rathdrum ASR project.

Appellants are Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law & Policy and American Whitewater, and are represented by attorneys Dan Von Seggern (CELP) and  Andrew Hawley (Western Environmental Law Center).

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Conservation groups ready to go to court over endangered species harmed by north-central Washington dam

Today, river advocacy groups notified federal agencies and a local public utility of their intent to sue over harm inflicted on Similkameen River endangered steelhead and threatened bull trout by Enloe Dam. New video evidence shows fish at the base of the dam unable to access stream areas above the dam that may be critical to their recovery. However, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Okanogan Public Utility District (OPUD) have failed to reinitiate consultation to address how this new information affects a permit to construct a power generating facility at the dam. Today’s notice starts a 60-day clock until a lawsuit can be filed.

“This new evidence showing fish, most likely Chinook salmon, jumping at the base of Enloe Dam provides new evidence that FERC’s analysis that re-energizing Enloe Dam would have ‘no effect’ on the critically imperiled species that live in the river was incorrect,” said Andrew Hawley of the Western Environmental Law Center. “The upper Columbia River steelhead that use the Similkameen River for example are known to be better leapers than Chinook, and according to NMFS’s own biologists, it is very likely that steelhead are indeed navigating the falls below the dam. This fact requires a new analysis of the dam’s impacts under the Endangered Species Act.”

“This new information only adds to the body of evidence showing that leaving Enloe Dam in place is a mistake,” said Trish Rolfe, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy. “As we continue to look for ways to rehabilitate our flagging salmon and steelhead populations, it makes little sense to ignore the impact this project will have on the ability of these fish to access the 200 or so miles of viable habitat upstream of the dam.”

OPUD has faced strong local opposition to its plan to re-energize Enloe Dam due to environmental concerns as well as economic issues. Multiple economic analyses show that power generated by the project will cost far more than electricity from other sources, burdening ratepayers that live in one of the most economically disadvantaged counties in Washington. The PUD’s project would also continue to impact the culturally, ecologically and recreationally significant Similkameen Falls (also called Coyote Falls), which lies immediately downstream of the dam.

“The plight of Puget Sound orca starving for want of salmon combined with the fundamental lack of economic viability should lead to removing this century-old cement plug,” said John Osborn, physician and coordinator of Sierra Club’s Columbia River Future Project. “Fish jumping in vain at the base of Enloe Dam is yet another terrible reminder of federal agencies failing to make the correct diagnosis for salmon, steelhead, and other species in trouble.  Fortunately, the Governor’s Task Force on Orca is now looking at removing Enloe Dam – as has occurred for restoring the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula and other rivers in Washington state.”

“OPUD’s FERC license allows it to operate Enloe until 2063,” said Jere Gillespie of Columbiana. “To avoid red ink, OPUD will have no choice but to pass the costs along to the ratepayers into the next generation. What makes sense for the Similkameen and for ratepayers is to free the river of this cement plug and not throw good money after bad. It’s more compelling to restore the river. Coyote Falls is an increasingly important regional attraction because of an expanding local and regional trail system, and salmon can be seen swimming above waterfalls to the base of the damA free flowing Similkameen will enhance economic growth for the local community.”

The groups note that they have been and remain willing to work with the PUD to develop a path forward for restoring the river that addresses ecological and cultural issues and the economic concern for ratepayers. The Western Environmental Law Center sent the notice on behalf of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, Columbiana, and Sierra Club.

Video of Chinook jumping at the base of the dam can be viewed here. Letters from NMFS and USFWS supporting reinitiating consultation are available here and here.

Contacts:

  • Andrew Hawley, Western Environmental Law Center, 206-487-7250, hawley@westernlaw.org
  • Trish Rolfe, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, 206-829-8299, trolfe@celp.org
  • John Osborn, Sierra Club, 509-939-1290, john@waterplanet.ws

Columbia River Treaty Negotiating Team out of step with Northwest Values

Sept 6 in Portland:

Northwest residents encouraged to speak with U.S. State Department at “Town Hall” meeting on future of the Columbia River and Treaty

Contact:

A broad coalition of conservation, sports, and fishing organizations today delivered a letter to the State Department asking for important changes to the 1964 Columbia River Treaty, which the United States and Canada are currently renegotiating. They are also encouraging residents to speak on behalf of the Columbia River’s future at a State Department “Townhall meeting” to be held in Portland on September 6, 5:30-7 p.m., at the Bonneville Power Administration.

“The renegotiation of the treaty offers a unique opportunity to improve conditions in the river by ensuring treaty dams are operated to provide sufficient flows for the express purpose of helping salmon and the river’s ecosystem,” said Greg Haller, Executive Director for Pacific Rivers. “River health, ‘Ecosystem-based function’ needs to be added to the Columbia River Treaty, co-equal with the two existing primary purposes of the treaty: hydropower production and flood risk management. Millions of residents and electrical ratepayers expect balanced management of the region’s hydroelectric facilities to ensure salmon populations recover and thrive. The treaty is an important prong of a basin-wide strategy for salmon recovery and we are asking the State Department for a course correction to improve river conditions in the U.S. and Canada for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people.”

In a letter sent to the lead negotiator, Jill Smail, U.S. Department of State, the requests include:

  • Protect and enhance the immense value of the Columbia Basin ecosystem by recognizing it as an authorized purpose of a modernized treaty, co-equal with flood risk management and hydropower generation.
  • Expand the group that oversees Treaty implementation, called the “U.S. Entity” to include appropriate representation for ecosystem function. Now the U.S. Entity consists only of Bonneville Power Administration (hydropower) and the Army Corps of Engineers (flood risk management).
  • Create advisory committees of affected stakeholders and sovereigns to support the U.S. Entity in treaty implementation.
  • Reform the U.S. negotiating team to ensure balanced representation of the issues involved, including giving a voice to Ecosystem-based Function.
  • Support a review of flood risk management that is essential for better managing the system of dams to protect river health while protecting Portland and Vancouver, Washington.
  • Restore the bi-national Collaborative Modeling Workgroup to establish a shared information based so that both nations together can make informed decisions about the Columbia River.  

The Columbia River Treaty was originally ratified in 1964 to reduce the risk of floods in downstream cities like Portland, Oregon and to develop additional hydropower capacity. The Treaty resulted in building four major dams, three in British Columbia and one in Montana. Notably, consideration of the health of the Columbia River and its fish and wildlife populations were not included in the original Treaty. Not only did the construction of the dams result in the displacement of people, economies and cultures as a result of permanently flooded lands, it had a profound effect on salmon and other fish and wildlife species – and the communities that rely on them – on both sides of the border.

“For 17 days the world watched as the mother orca Talequah carrying her dead calf for a thousand miles, reminding us how precious and fragile is life that depends on Columbia River salmon,” said John Osborn, a physician who coordinates Sierra Club’s Columbia River Future Project. “River temperatures are rising, returning salmon face ever more massive die-offs, glaciers are melting and forests are burning. In this time of climate change we call upon the State Department to represent the values of the people of the Northwest in protecting and restoring the Columbia River. Water is life. ”

At its heart, Ecosystem-based Function is a way to achieve a healthier river and healthier fish and wildlife populations. It means operational changes that provide additional water during low and moderate flow years in the spring and summer to increase survival of juvenile salmon migrating downstream to the Pacific Ocean. It also includes fish passage and reintroduction of salmon above Grand Coulee Dam and into Canada, and to stop using the Upper Columbia River as a sacrifice zone.

More about the U.S. State Department’s Town Hall meeting in Portland:

The Columbia River Treaty Town Hall meeting is open to the public, and will take place in Portland at the Bonneville Power Administration’s Rates Hearing Room 1201 Llyod Blvd, Suite 200 (11th Avenue/Holladay Park Max light rail stop), from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.  This Townhall will follow the August 15–16 round of negotiations on the Treaty regime in British Columbia and take place in advance of the October 17–18 round of negotiations in Portland, Oregon.  For more information on the Town Hall, including call-in details, please see the Federal Register Notice.

Links:

 

 

 


State Dept “Town Hall” meeting on Columbia River Treaty, future

The United States and Canada are negotiating the Columbia River Treaty. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to help protect and restore the Columbia River. On September 6, the U.S. State Department will give you an opportunity to provide input. Please take time to attend this Town Hall meeting – for the River and life that depends on the River.

When: Sept 6, 5:30 – 7 p.m.

Where: Portland, Bonneville Power Administration’s Rates Hearing Room, 1201 Llyod Blvd, Suite 200 (across the street from the current BPA Building)

Treaty Town Hall:  messages for the State Department

Below are suggested messages that may help you in developing your own personal message to deliver to the State Department’s negotiating team for the Columbia River Treaty:

RIGHTING HISTORIC WRONGS.  On June 14, 1940, 10,000 indigenous people from throughout the Northwest gathered at Kettle Falls for the “Ceremony of Tears” to mourn the loss of ancestral fishing grounds soon to be flooded by Grand Coulee dam. Adding Ecosystem-based Function to the Treaty as a primary purpose would include restoring salmon above Grand Coulee dam. (Credit: UW Special Collections)

(1) “Ecosystem-based Function” must be included as a new primary purpose of a new Columbia River Treaty – co-equal with power production and flood management. At its heart, ecosystem-based function is a way to achieve a healthier river and healthier fish and wildlife populations. It means operational changes that provide additional water during low and moderate flow years in the spring and summer to increase survival of juvenile salmon migrating downstream to the Pacific Ocean. It also includes fish passage and reintroduction of salmon above Grand Coulee Dam and into Canada.  The world watched as the mother orca Talequah carried her dead baby for 17 days 1,000 miles, calling attention to the starving orcas of Puget Sound — and once again underscoring the importance of Columbia River salmon. 

(2) The River needs a voice during Treaty negotiations.  The U.S. should add a representative for “ecosystem function” to the Treaty negotiating team. 

(3)  The U.S. and Canada have excluded tribes and First Nations from the negotiating teams — and this needs to be corrected.  Under the laws of both countries it is clear this this Treaty impacts the shared resources held by tribes in the U.S., as well as those resources in Canada to which rights and title have not been extinguished.

(4) The River needs a voice during Treaty implementation.  U.S. should add a new, third representative to the “U.S. Entity” that can represent the river’s ecosystem needs during treaty implementation.

The U.S. Entity today includes just two federal dam agencies – BPA and ACOE – neither has a record as a responsible steward of natural resources like wild salmon and steelhead, lamprey and other species. The U.S. Entity must include a new voice for the river and its health.

(5) Citizen input is needed.  The U.S. should create an advisory committee to the U.S. Entity that allows stakeholders to understand and share information about the operation of the Treaty dams, and their impacts on communities and natural resources.

(6) Make informed decisions using a shared, transparent information base.  Create a common analytic base between both nations and all those affected by re-establishing the collaborative modeling workgroup.

(7) We need best options for flood risk management.  Residents in the greater Portland and Vancouver metropolitan area want to understand the costs, benefits and tradeoffs from today’s flood management strategies – as well as possible alternatives. In order to prepare, the U.S. Army Corps should conduct a basin-wide review of flood risk management.

*

For further Information, contact:


Patagonia to host Tribal film

Film:  United by Water

July 12,  7 p.m.  Patagonia Seattle  2100 1st Ave, Seattle 

RSVP BEFORE and receive a free raffle ticket at the door.


  • Orcas depend on Columbia River salmon for survival. 
  • Seattle is powered partly by Columbia River dams. 
  • The Trump and Trudeau Administrations are excluding tribes, First Nations from treaty negotiations about the future of the Columbia River. 
  • This film is timely, and we encourage you to attend and meet with tribal leaders.  Indigenous people need our help.

“The River is sacred.  People will put aside their differences when it comes to the River and bringing back the salmon.”

                 – the late Virgil Seymour (1958 – 2016) Arrow Lakes (Sinixt) Facilitator for The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) presents this documentary about canoe journeys on the Upper Columbia River, using dugout canoes from 800-hundred-year-old cedar logs, and the emotional historic landing at Kettle Falls, among the world’s richest salmon-fishing sites flooded when Grand Coulee Dam was constructed. 

DR Michel and John Sirois of UCUT will talk about work of tribes (US) and First Nations (Canada), including the need for Columbia River tribes to be at the negotiation table as the U.S. Dept of State re-negotiates with Canada the Columbia River Treaty.  Negotiations began May 29 in Washington DC.  We’ll have postcards to write/send to our Congressional representatives, asking them to hold accountable the State Department to give tribes a place at the table, and give a voice to the River and salmon. We hope to see you there.

Watch the trailer.


More about “United by Water”

76 years after the Ceremony of Tears, and the last salmon at Kettle Falls – United by Water reaches back, reconnecting with time immemorial to help us unite together for the River and for salmon.

On June 14, 1940, thousands of Native Americans from throughout the Northwest gathered at Kettle Falls – thunderous waterfalls and one of the world’s richest salmon fishing sites – for a three-day “Ceremony of Tears” to mourn the loss of their ancestral fishing grounds, soon to be flooded by Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River.  “United by Water” documents the journey of five tribal communities to Kettle Falls, the fishing site of their ancestors, in the growing struggle to return salmon to the Upper Columbia and reclaim the lives and future for indigenous people.

The film, produced by the Upper Columbia United Tribes, headquartered in Spokane, shows breathtaking archival footage of the last salmon ceremony on the Columbia prior to the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. It then documents the inspiring 2016 journey on the river – the building of the dugout canoes, the physical and spiritual journey on the Columbia River, and finally the emotional historic landing at Kettle Falls.

United by Water will show at Patagonia Seattle on July 12, 7 p.m.

Representatives from the Upper Columbia United Tribes who appear in the film, D.R. Michel and John Sirois, will speak after the screening about their work, the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty, the impact of the dams on salmon, and the annual canoe journeys on the River, utilizing dug out canoes.

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The award-winning documentary highlights the need to recognize the importance of reconnecting to the Columbia River and restoring salmon runs. Not only does the film bring attention to the historic wrongs that blocked salmon from the Upper Columbia River, but it shares the current efforts by UCUT and other tribes (US) and First Nations (Canada) to bring forward tribal traditions to help better understand what is lacking in our contemporary society. We need to forge a deeper connection to the waters that bring life to our communities.

The film comes at a critical time as the US government has begun renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty and indigenous nations are advocating to the U.S. State Department their rightful place at the negotiation table to give voice to the Columbia River, salmon, and people of the river.

Partners of this film screening include the Upper Columbia United Tribes, Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Sierra Club’s Columbia River Future Project, Save Our Wild Salmon, Columbia Institute for Water Policy, and the Backbone Campaign.  Admission is by donation to the Backbone Campaign, with no one turned away for lack of funds.   Proceeds will help go to support the Tribes’ River Warriors project.

Film co-sponsored by:

 

 

 


Remembering Vanport Flood’s double tragedy

News Release: May 23, 2018

4:05 p.m. Memorial Day: A moment of silence to remember the double tragedy of the Vanport Flood

Canadians, impacted by resulting Treaty, ask Americans to rethink flood risk management in the lower Columbia River Basin

Canadian-United States Treaty Negotiations to start May 29 – the day following Vanport Flood memorial

Reporter Contacts:

Without warning, on Memorial Day 1948, a combination of heavy winter snowfall, warm temperatures, and spring rainfall sent torrents down the Columbia River, breaking through a railroad embankment serving as a levee, and destroying Oregon’s second largest city, Vanport, near Portland. Built in the floodplain of the Columbia River close to the confluence with the Willamette River, Vanport provided housing for thousands of low-income people. The floodwaters killed at least fifteen people, left 18,000 others homeless, and washed away the community.

The governments of the United States and Canada seized on the Vanport flood to promote a treaty that would authorize dams upstream in British Columbia and Montana, eventually forcing thousands of residents from their homes, and permanently flooding vast river valleys of the Upper Columbia River Basin. Particularly devastating for indigenous people who had lived in the Columbia River Valley for thousands of years was loss of burial grounds and cultural sites, compounding the loss of massive salmon runs caused by Grand Coulee dam. And now, on the 70th anniversary of the Vanport Flood, the United States and Canada are entering into negotiations to modernize that agreement known as the Columbia River Treaty.

“Recognizing the double tragedy impacting thousands of people in Vanport and subsequently in our Canadian and First Nations communities in the Upper Columbia River, we ask for a moment of silence on Memorial Day,” said Mindy Smith, a physician living near Trail, British Columbia. “We also ask that each Memorial Day going forward, we pause to remember and reflect on this double disaster and how people of the Basin are bound together by more than a treaty, but by our need and responsibility to seek equity of benefits and costs in river management.”

The Vanport Flood and its devastating consequences for the upper Columbia River Basin was the focus of a 2016 conference, One River – Ethics Matter, hosted by the University of Portland. This was part of the conference series of Columbia River reconciliation based on the 2001 Columbia River Pastoral Letter by the Roman Catholic Bishops of the international watershed. Highlights of the Portland conference focusing on the Vanport Flood can be viewed on a short film: Portland: One River – Ethics Matter.

“As negotiators for the United States and Canada prepare to sit down to discuss the future of the River, the double tragedy of the Vanport Flood needs to be remembered,” said Martin Carver of Nelson B.C. and coordinator of the Upper Columbia Basin Environmental Collaborative. “With continued floodplain development in the Portland area and elsewhere, and with escalating risks from climate change, the scope of the floodplain problem going forward will only increase.   Americans should not continue to rely on the devastation of upstream ecosystems and communities to allow for downstream floodplain development in Portland. That is fundamentally unjust and cannot be sustained.”

“The Columbia River is one river and ethics matter,” said John Osborn, physician and coordinator of the Columbia River Roundtable. “Past decisions have located people and structures in harm’s way by building in downriver floodplains while permanently flooding upriver valleys with dams and reservoirs – once biologically and culturally rich river valleys now wastelands. The Treaty dams are not going away. But we need to rethink dam management to improve river health and restore salmon runs while protecting communities. That is a compelling legacy of the Vanport Flood double tragedy.”

The moment of silence is scheduled for 4:05p.m. PDT on Memorial Day (U.S.)   The next day, May 29, in Washington D.C., the United States and Canada will begin formal negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty. (link)

Links:

 

Vanport, Oregon – photo from BlackPast.org

 

 


Icicle Creek: a win for waters of Washington

News Release:  May 18, 2018

Fish Hatchery polluting Icicle Creek at center of ruling allowing Washington State to protect state waters

Contacts –

  • Dan Von Seggern, Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP),  dvonseggern@celp.org  206.829-8299
  • Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, kurt@wildfishconservancy.org 425-788-1167

On May 14 the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) ruled against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), operator of the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery, and in favor of Icicle Creek advocates Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) and Wild Fish Conservancy. Late last year, CELP and Wild Fish Conservancy appealed the state’s certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act for the federal hatchery to the PCHB. The FWS asked the PCHB to dismiss the appeal, arguing that state water quality certifications are not independently enforceable and cannot be effectively modified after a federal permit is issued, and therefore the challenge to the state certification was moot. The PCHB rejected the FWS argument. The PCHB concluded that state-issued Section 401 certifications are tailored to protect water quality in every state water body and are independently enforceable.

“This decision is a victory for protecting Washington’s waters,” said Dan Von Seggern, CELP staff attorney. “It affirms the State’s ability under the Clean Water Act to place meaningful conditions on a water user even where a Federal permit has been issued. The decision allows CELP and other water advocates to work through the courts to enforce these conditions.”

Icicle Creek flows out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness through the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, Washington, and supports important fisheries including endangered Chinook salmon and threatened steelhead.

“We commend the PCHB’s ruling against the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery,” said Kurt Beardslee, director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “We believe State and Federal government facilities should be a positive example of environmental stewardship for the rest of the community. Unfortunately, this hatchery is not a good neighbor and has set a poor example. It is in fact the largest polluter of Icicle Creek.”

The Leavenworth National Hatchery was first constructed between 1939 and 1941 near Leavenworth, Washington, as a mitigation project for Grand Coulee dam. It is located on the banks of Icicle Creek approximately three miles from the confluence with the Wenatchee River. The hatchery has a long history of violating state and federal environmental laws, despite repeated attempts to bring it into compliance to protect Icicle Creek.

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

Link:

Background

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) discharges a wide variety of pollutants into Icicle Creek from the federal hatchery located near Leavenworth, Washington. Pollutants released from the Hatchery to Icicle Creek 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 excess phosphorus discharged by the Hatchery has caused violations of the applicable water quality criterion for pH in lower Icicle Creek. This phosphorus loading also contributes to violations of water quality standards in the Wenatchee River.

The Clean Water Act is the main mechanism through which pollution of our waters is prevented, and the Hatchery is obligated to apply for a permit and to operate according to its conditions.

A National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is required by the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and would place limits on pollutant discharges. States, using “401 certifications,” can compel the federal government to protect state waters. On July 28, 2017, the Washington Department of Ecology issued a draft Clean Water Act section 401 certification for a new permit. State certifications must include appropriate limitations and monitoring requirements to assure that the applicant for the Federal permit (USFWS) will comply with applicable effluent limits, prohibitions, standards of performance and appropriate requirements of state law.

For 37 years, the FWS operated the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery without a valid permit in violation of the Clean Water Act. On November 22, 2017 both a new federal permit and state 401 certification were issued. On December 21, CELP and Native Fish Conservancy appealed the state 401 certification to the PCHB. The federal permit was not appealed, and took effect on January 1, 2018. USFWS asked the PCHB to dismiss the appeal because Icicle Creek advocates had appealed the state certification, but not the federal permit.