Court Rules “Temporary” Structure at Electron Dam Site Violates Endangered Species Act

Court Rules “Temporary” Structure at Electron Dam Site Violates Endangered Species Act

Ruling will mean a free-flowing Puyallup River for fish for the first time in more than 100 years 

Seattle, Wash.  – A portion of Washington’s Electron Dam must be removed from the Puyallup River following a historic district court ruling today. The decision will allow water to flow naturally along the river for the first time in nearly 100 years. The Puyallup Tribe brought suit against Electron Hydro LLC after the company unlawfully discharged toxic tire crumb rubber in the river and then hastily constructed a “temporary” rock dam and sheet pile wall in 2020. The court found that the structure harms steelhead trout, Chinook salmon, and bull trout, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“From the time the rock dam was proposed in 2020, the Tribe and its biologists made it clear that the structure would harm fish and prevent successful upstream migration for salmon to spawn,” said the Puyallup Tribal Council after the ruling. “Year after year, the Tribe has demanded it be removed to allow for spawning migration. Year after year the operators and regulators refused to do the right thing and remove the illegal structure that was harming salmon. For years, Electron Hydro has followed its devastating act of polluting the water with turf with further harm to fish by preventing their upstream migration. We are grateful the court agreed with our repeated calls for its removal because the dam violated the Endangered Species Act. The Tribe will work closely with agencies to be sure this happens as soon as possible. It is a good day for salmon, even if it took years to get to this result.”

The Puyallup River is home to Chinook salmon, which are important to tribal and non-tribal fishers alike and a critical food source of endangered Southern Resident orcas, and to steelhead and bull trout. All three species are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The century-old dam in the upper Puyallup has long been a killer of salmon and has never complied with the Endangered Species Act.

“This is a monumental decision that will allow fish unimpeded access to pristine habitat above the dam for the first time in more than 100 years,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, senior attorney with Earthjustice’s Biodiversity Defense Program. “The Endangered Species Act ensures that companies like Electron cannot blatantly harm or kill threatened and endangered species. We are thankful that the Court recognized these impacts and chose to, at long last, free the Puyallup River and the species that call it home.”

After a disastrous and illegal discharge of artificial turf into the Puyallup River, for which they are criminally responsible, Electron charged forward with construction of a “temporary” rock dam and sheet pile wall without full permits. After the turf catastrophe, permitting agencies ordered Electron to stop work on its construction project, but Electron pushed regulators to allow it to place even more fill and obstacles into the river, claiming the harmful structures would be “temporary” until it obtained permits for a more permanent structure. Nearly four years later, the rock dam and metal sheet pile structure remain, continuing to harm Endangered Species Act-protected fish in the river. Today’s decision will at long last allow salmon, trout, and other aquatic species to move freely along the Puyallup River.

In 2021, the court enjoined operation of the intake and powerhouse because fish were being sucked into the flume and injured or killed in the process. That injunction remains in place.

Earthjustice represents the Puyallup Tribe in the lawsuit against Electron Hydro LLC.

(Photo by David Seibold / CC BY-NC 2.0)