NWEA Continues Legal Fight to Bring Cold Water to Salmon, Steelhead, and Bull Trout in Oregon

In December, a federal court heard oral argument in NWEA’s six-year old case challenging Oregon’s water quality standards for temperature.

Salmon, steelhead, and bull trout are the Pacific Northwest’s “canary in the coal mine,” making the temperatures of our rivers the equivalent of the poisonous gas that killed the canaries.  Looking at rising stream temperatures is like holding a mirror up to the logging, farming, ranching, development, and water removals that have fundamentally altered the water on which these cold-water species depend.  The excess heat means fish have to work harder and eat more, and levels of fish disease rise dramatically.  While large objects such as dams have obvious harsh effects on salmon, their actual habitat is the temperature of the water.  And more waters violate water quality standards for temperature than any other pollutant in Oregon.  NWEA has been working for safe temperatures to protect salmon, steelhead, and bull trout through its lawsuits.

Oregon adopted new temperature standards in 2003, pursuant to a court order in an earlier NWEA lawsuit that successfully challenged the state’s 1996 temperature standards.  However, the new Oregon standards are similarly flawed, for example by:

•    setting higher-than-optimal temperatures for salmon,
•    exempting  the very pollution sources that warm most of Oregon’s streams, and
•    allowing Oregon to essentially erase its standards once the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) decides predicted temperatures are “natural.”

All of these provisions and more were challenged in NWEA’s most recent Clean Water Act lawsuit which also sued the federal government under the Endangered Species Act.  Here are NWEA’s opening brief and reply brief on the CWA claims.  Here are NWEA’s opening brief and reply brief on the ESA claims.