Puyallup Tribe Sues Electron Dam Operators Over Killing of Fish in Puyallup River

Puyallup Tribe Sues Electron Dam Operators Over Killing of Fish in Puyallup River

Contamination of river with artificial turf not the only take of salmon and bull trout in violation of Endangered Species Act

TACOMA —The Puyallup Tribe filed a lawsuit in federal court today against the operators of Electron Dam over their ongoing violations of the Endangered Species Act.

The Puyallup River is home to spring 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.

In July 2020, a planned outage of the Electron facility stranded, suffocated and pulverized thousands of adults and juvenile fish. This outage is part of regular maintenance and operations of the facility, and is in addition to the thousands of fish killed in the flume, forebay, and turbines of the facility every year.

In the same month, the dam’s owners deliberately placed thousands of square yards of artificial turf in the Puyallup River as part of a construction project. According to Electron’s own consultant, the turf and its crumb rubber washed down the entire length of the river below Electron Dam and into Commencement Bay. Five months later, large pieces of turf are still in the river and crumb rubber pieces and fragments of plastic grass are clearly visible on the shorelines and vegetation.

“This dam has been killing fish for decades. The reckless killing of fish in the forebay this summer in spite of our efforts to warn and guide them to reduce the fish kill and then polluting this sacred river with crumb rubber was the last straw,” said the Puyallup Tribal Council, the Tribe’s governing body. “The owners have to be held accountable. They are killing fish and destroying natural resources that are here for everyone’s benefit, Native and non-Native alike. Our job is to protect the land, the water and the fish. That is what we are doing today by suing Electron Dam’s owners for their egregious conduct.”

Lisa A. Anderson with the Law Office of the Puyallup Tribe is the attorney representing the Tribe. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court against Electron Hydro LLC, Thom A. Fischer and Tollhouse Energy Company, identifies multiple violations of the Endangered Species Act for illegal take of listed species including Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout in the Puyallup River:

  • Electron diverts water from the river into a flume, lowering flows in the bypass reach of the Puyallup River and captures and harms Chinook salmon and steelhead and bull trout.
  • The Electron Dam blocks fish from migrating upstream and recent changes to the dam have impacted the operations of the fish ladder and caused a take of fish at the dam;
  • Electron maintains and periodically dredges Lizard Lake, which captures, harms and kills fish.
  • Electron maintains a forebay for the dam, which captures fish and puts them at greater than normal risk of falling prey to other fish, delays their migration, and kills fish during maintenance and as regular operations moving water through the penstocks and turbines. A single maintenance operation conducted on July 29, 2020, resulted in the deaths of thousands of fish.
  • The placement of artificial turf in the river, which spread crumb rubber and plastics over 40 miles of river and finally into Commencement Bay

Electron Dam’s operators have temporarily installed a rock dam without full permits because their actions of placing the turf in the river delayed their work to install a bladder dam that would improve operations for electricity generation. This past summer, the fish ladder remained inoperable blocking most, if not all, of the returning Chinook salmon from reaching upstream spawning grounds. While temporary, the rock dam structure is likely to damage runs by compromising the fish ladder and blocking fish passage upstream. 

“Electron Dam’s operators have had a century to get it right,” Tribal Council said. “It is time for the dam to go. Its legacy will be one of dead fish and damage to the ecology of this beautiful place we all live in.”

About the Puyallup Tribe of Indians
The Puyallup People have lived along the shores of what is now called Puget Sound since time immemorial. The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is a sovereign nation of more than 5,000 members and one of the largest employers in Pierce County. It serves its people and neighbors with generosity and is committed to building a sustainable way of life for future generations. Learn more about the Puyallup Tribe.

About the Puyallup Tribal Council
The Puyallup Tribal Council is the elected governing body of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. The council consists of Chairman Bill Sterud, Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Miller, David Z. Bean, Annette Bryan, James Rideout, Anna Bean and Monica Miller.

Contact: Michael Thompson, Communications Director, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, (253) 344-3266; michael.thompson@puyalluptribe-nsn.gov

Click the image below to view the complaint.