Indian Tribe Claims Hydroelectric Project is Harming Endangered Fish

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians challenged an Electron hydroelectric project on Washington’s Puyallup River on Wednesday in the Western District of Washington. The plaintiff claimed in the complaint that Electron Hydro, Thom A. Fischer (a director of the project), and Tollhouse Energy Company have unlawfully taken various fish which are “threatened with extinction” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Puyallup Tribe purported that the defendants are breaching the ESA by continuing to maintain, operate, and renovate their Electron hydroelectric project on the river. The tribe’s reservation in Tacoma, Washington includes a portion of the Puyallup River which is downstream from the Electron facility. The tribe claimed that its fishing rights, which are protected under the Medicine Creek Treaty and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians Settlement Act, are “essential to the Tribe and its members’ existence and culture,” but are being impacted by the defendants’ violations of the ESA. 

Wednesday’s complaint claimed that through the hydroelectric project, the defendants have contributed to the threatened status of Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and bull trout. It explained that nine salmonid species in the Puyallup River are prey for orcas in the Puget Sound and are integral parts of the environment. The river is used for Chinook salmon to spawn, and the species is typically near the project site between April and October. According to the plaintiff, the river historically supported 42,000 Chinook Salmon, but since 2007 the river has only had about 1,300 Chinook Salmon. Less drastic declines in numbers for other fish were noted as well. 

The Puyallup Tribe reported that at the project facility, fish are intended to be captured and transferred downstream. However, fish are often not relocated downstream, and instead taken with the diverted water directly used to produce electricity. This results in the improperly relocated fish being “entrained in the penstocks or turbines,” where said fish are frequently injured or killed. 

According to a Notice of Related Cases filed by the plaintiff, there are two other lawsuits against the same or similar defendants alleging similar facts and conduct in the Western District of Washington. One of the lawsuits was filed by the United States of America and the other by American Whitewater. The plaintiff explained that there could be “an unduly burdensome duplication of labor and expense or the potential for conflicting results” if the present case is not heard by the same judge that is hearing the other two lawsuits. 

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians, represented by its own lawyers, asked the court to declare that the defendants violated the ESA and order Electron to stop diverting water and fish from the Puyallup river until it obtains the proper permits. The Tribe further requested that the court mandate Electron to take any actions necessary to repair any fish species depopulation resulting from the defendants’ activities.