Simon’s Spill Ruling is Disappointing and Potentially Harmful for Salmon, Northwest RiverPartners, March 27, 2017

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Contact: Terry Flores, cell (503) 367-9997; [email protected]

Statement from Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners:

We are deeply disappointed by the ruling today from U.S. District Judge Michael Simon and by his approach to litigation over federal hydropower operations, which make clear that the hydrosystem is not likely to get a fair shake in his courtroom.

Most disturbing is his finding that the Army Corps of Engineers’ needed investments in the Snake River dams may “bias” the environmental review or NEPA process the Judge already had ordered. While declining to grant plaintiffs’ (National Wildlife Federation, Oregon, Nez Perce tribe) request to halt several projects at the dams, noting they actually benefit protected salmon, he encouraged them to file motions on future projects.

This means the court is not only prescribing how the federal dams–which provide 60 percent of the Northwest’s clean energy—should be operated, it also signals its willingness to make decisions on what investments should be made at the Snake dams. The ruling clearly indicates a preference to remove these projects and an intent to usurp Congress’ role in authorizing and appropriating funds to ensure continued safe operations of the dams.

In his order calling for a spill “test” in 2018, Judge Simon ignores the region’s Independent Science Advisory Board (ISAB) that concluded in 2014 that spilling higher volumes of water past the dams to speed young fish to the ocean does not correlate to higher numbers of returning adults. Too many other factors affect survival, including hatcheries, harvest and ocean conditions where salmon spend 3 to 5 years, versus the 30 days or less they spend migrating downstream past dams.

A spill “test” will result in higher electric bills for Northwest families and businesses but will do little or nothing—perhaps even harm—salmon. Too much spill creates high gas levels that give young fish “the bends” much like scuba divers experience. And it prevents adults from ascending ladders at the dams to access their spawning grounds. Increasing spill is a case of diminishing returns, where survival benefits are few and uncertain and costs to electric customers and carbon impacts of 4 million tons annually from lost hydropower generation are substantial and real.

Finally, Judge Simon chided federal agencies in court March 9, suggesting they weren’t complying with his NEPA review. He cited a handful of complaint calls to his office but was seemingly unaware of the thousands of citizens, including RiverPartners’ members, who have participated in 15 open meetings throughout the region and submitted over 250,000 comments as part of a robust review. This development reinforces our concerns about this court’s ability in this case to render an impartial judgement.


Northwest RiverPartners is an alliance of farmers, utilities, ports and businesses that promote the economic and environmental benefits of the Columbia and Snake Rivers and salmon recovery policies based on sound science.

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