Columbia-Snake Suit On Pause For ‘Long-term Solution’ Work


The National Wildlife Federation and a coalition of fishing and conservation groups jointly requested, with the Biden Administration, Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe, a pause until next summer in litigation challenging the latest federal plan for hydropower operations on the Snake and Columbia Rivers. The request for a stay includes an agreement for specific dam operations in 2022. If the court grants the stay, these parties have committed to use the time to work together to develop and implement a comprehensive, long-term solution that could resolve the long-running litigation over dam operations in National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service


The request submitted to the Court states that it “provide[s] an interim compromise while the Parties work together to develop and begin implementing a long-term comprehensive solution.”

“Columbia River salmon have been essential to this treasured river basin for millennia. Now, the salmon and the people, wildlife, and ecosystems that rely upon them are running out of time. This pause in our decades-running litigation offers the federal government, states, Tribes, and conservation advocates an opportunity to come together and finally find common-ground and enact a comprehensive solution to restore salmon,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Congressman Mike Simpson has started an important, bipartisan conversation in the region about the future of Northwest salmon and the lower Snake River dams. We appreciate the commitment of the federal government, State of Oregon, Nez Perce Tribe, and the conservation community to work together to comprehensively resolve this long-standing controversy.  We look forward to working with these parties, Tribes and other interests to achieve a successful outcome.”

“We must act very quickly because our salmon are headed toward extinction. Snake River steelhead returns this year were the lowest ever recorded and other stocks are not doing much better,” said Liz Hamilton, Executive Director Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “We urgently need a real, comprehensive solution that works for all interests and believe these discussions can deliver that result for salmon, and salmon-dependent communities and others. NSIA is committed to making every effort in the coming months to reach that outcome but is ready to go back to court if we have to.”

“Our region is entering a period of unique opportunity to forge a comprehensive solution that works for all, restores the Snake River and its salmon and honors the rights of Tribes,” said Bill Arthur, the Sierra Club’s Snake River campaign director. “This pause in litigation has engaged the leadership of the Biden administration at a time when key Northwest leaders are also putting forward plans like Rep. Simpson’s and initiatives like Senator Murray’s and Governor Inslee’s to take a new path and develop a durable solution.” 

“This one-year agreement will provide additional protections for endangered salmon and steelhead in 2022, but the fishing and conservation groups know that with the current configuration of the system, this will not be enough for long-term revitalization of the fish,” said Todd True, Earthjustice attorney. “We’ve said all along that what we need to do is restore the lower Snake River, including breaching the four federal dams there, and make other appropriate investments to replace the power and other economic benefits they provide. That’s the kind of solution we’re seeking.”

The agreement filed with the court not only creates an opportunity to develop and implement a comprehensive solution, it also increases, for 2022, the amount of water shifted away from dam turbines starting next spring to help endangered salmon populations navigate the dams in the Columbia and Snake River basins. Increasing “spill,” as it is called, helps juvenile fish avoid the turbines and pass each dam more quickly along their perilous river migration to reach the ocean where they mature. The Agreement also includes other measures to address the harmful effects of dam operations. The conservation and fishing groups recognize, however, that these are emergency, stop-gap measures to afford these species incremental survival benefits. They are not alone enough to prevent the decline of these fish toward extinction. 

In this case, Earthjustice represents American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United, Institute for Fisheries Resources, NW Energy Coalition, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Columbia Riverkeeper, Idaho Conservation League and Fly Fishers International as plaintiffs.  Oregon is also a plaintiff in the case, and the Nez Perce Tribe is an amicus party aligned with Oregon and the fishing and conservation groups. 

The federal agencies involved are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.


Biden-Harris Administration Announces Steps to Improve Conditions for Salmon in the Columbia River Basin

The Biden-Harris administration today announced an important step to chart a path forward in a longstanding Columbia River Basin conflict regarding the operation of 14 federal dams and their impacts on the region’s salmon and steelhead populations.

In an effort to take a fresh look at the important issues affecting the communities, economy, and resources of the Pacific Northwest, the United States, the State of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe, and a coalition of plaintiffs led by the National Wildlife Federation have reached a compromise on key disputed elements of 2022 Columbia River system operations. The agreement, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, outlines how eight dams in the Columbia River Basin will be operated over the coming year. This will include additional fish passage spill of water past the dams at certain times of year while still preserving reliable hydropower production, transportation, and other services provided by the dams.

The agreement also asks the court to stay the litigation until the end of July 2022, to afford affected states, Tribal nations, and stakeholders the opportunity to identify and review alternative and durable solutions to longstanding challenges in the Columbia River System.

“The Columbia River System is an invaluable natural resource that is critical to many stakeholders in the Basin. Today’s filing represents an important opportunity to prioritize the resolution of more than 20 years of litigation and identify creative solutions that improve conditions for salmon for years to come,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “While it is important to balance the region’s economy and power generation, it is also time to improve conditions for Tribes that have relied on these important species since time immemorial.”

“Hydroelectric power plays an incredible role in integrating renewable resources and providing carbon-free power, a great example of the affordable and clean energy sources that are available in all pockets of this country,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “By joining forces with our interagency partners and key stakeholders in the Northwest, DOE will ensure that the reduction of carbon emissions remains a priority, alongside supporting a strong economy and affordable power for families and businesses, as we partner in the Northwest to meet the full range of the region’s goals.”

“The Columbia River System federal dams play a vital role in providing for flood resilience, low-carbon waterborne transportation of goods and public safety in the Region. We remain committed to pursuing collaborative approaches to river management, public safety, and salmon restoration,” stated Acting Principal Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Vance Stewart.

“A healthy and vibrant Columbia River Basin is good for the economy and it’s good for the people of the Pacific Northwest.,” observed Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. “The Columbia River Basin is essential to salmon and steelhead production on the West Coast, providing a key refuge for salmon and steelhead from the effects of climate change. Finding effective solutions to conserve and rebuild these species and their habitat is of critical importance to our work.”

“For the sake of everyone who lives in the Northwest, it is time to chart a more sustainable path in the Columbia River Basin,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. “This agreement opens an opportunity for States, Tribes, Federal agencies, Congress, and all stakeholders to work together to forge enduring solutions that are so badly needed. The Administration is committed to reaching a long-term solution in the region to restore salmon, honoring our commitments to Tribal Nations, ensuring reliable clean energy, and addressing the needs of stakeholders.”


Nez Perce Tribe Joins Stay of Litigation with State of Oregon, Conservation Groups and United States to Discuss Comprehensive Litigation Solutions

Today the Nez Perce Tribe (Tribe) joined the State of Oregon and conservation and fishing group plaintiffs, together with the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Agencies, in asking the Oregon Federal District Court to stay Columbia Power System litigation through July 31, 2022, in order to allow for discussion of comprehensive litigation solutions. The stay is based on a short-term agreement filed with the Court that sets 2022 hydropower measures that compromise the preliminary injunction measures requested by Oregon and the conservation plaintiffs, and supported by the Tribe, that are pending before the Court.

“Salmon and steelhead are at a crisis. Short-term measures are not the answer. We all know that. But this temporary compromise, which provides incremental benefits for fish, will have been a critical turning point if it enables a comprehensive resolution that prevents the extinction of salmon and steelhead populations – which is clearly on the horizon,” said Nez Perce Tribe Chairman, Samuel N. Penney. “Visionary action to save our salmon and honor our treaties is urgently needed. We need the United States Government to comprehend the situation and act. The science is clear: salmon and steelhead need a free-flowing, climate-resilient Lower Snake River, not a series of slow, easily-warmed reservoirs. The Nez Perce Tribe and its people intend to ensure that salmon do not go extinct on our watch.”

After nearly 30 years of failed federal salmon plans, Snake River spring/summer Chinook salmon are closer to extinction than ever. The most recent analysis indicates that 42% of the populations of Snake River spring/summer Chinook are now at or below the “quasi-extinction” level of 50 or fewer spawners on spawning grounds for four consecutive years. By 2025, 77% of those populations are projected to hit that functional extinction level. “We will continue to speak the truth about what the salmon need, and this is a moment of tribal unity in the Northwest and across the nation,” said Nez Perce Tribe Vice-Chairman, Shannon F. Wheeler. “Tribes, maybe more than anyone, understand the moment we face: a salmon crisis, a climate crisis, and a long-overdue opportunity to address 90 years of tribal injustice imposed by the Columbia power system on Indian people and their homelands.” The National Congress of American Indians and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians both adopted formal 2021 Resolutions supporting restoration of the Lower Snake River, and Congressman Mike Simpson’s comprehensive Columbia Basin Initiative. The Resolutions also ask the Biden-Harris Administration to end litigation defense of the prior Administration’s Columbia River System salmon plans as those positions are inconsistent with tribal and environmental justice principles and law.


Governor Kate Brown Issues Statement on Short-Term Agreement for Columbia Basin

Governor Kate Brown issued the following statement today, following the signing of a short-term agreement on a stay of litigation through July 2022 between the State of Oregon and its co-plaintiffs and the federal government concerning dam operations in the Columbia Basin:

“I’d like to thank the parties on both sides of this issue, who worked hard to craft a plan for short-term operations of the Columbia River System, giving us the time and space to work on a comprehensive, long-term solution for everyone who depends on the rivers of the Columbia Basin.

“We have no time to waste, with the Basin’s salmon and steelhead on the brink of extinction. We need a comprehensive solution that ensures robust and harvestable fish population and economic growth for agriculture and commodity transport, as well as an assessment of the replacement of the services provided by the Lower Snake River dams. The assessment should include the federal investments needed to upgrade the evolving portfolio of clean energy sources and transmission infrastructure for the region.

“I’d like to thank the Biden-Harris Administration for their commitment to work cooperatively with us, the Tribes of the Columbia Basin, and the other key parties to begin working towards implementation of a long-term solution in 2022. My administration stands ready to collaborate with all stakeholders on this effort, so we can start immediately to meet our shared goals for the region.”

A copy of the signed agreement is available here.