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ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP TO SUE FEDERAL AGENCIES SEEKING COLD WATER FOR SALMON RECOVERY
Federal agencies neglected salmon recovery when they approved water temperature standards for Oregon's rivers and streams and can expect a lawsuit to be filed in 60 days to correct the situation. That, according to letter filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on Monday by the Portland-based Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA).
"It's ironic that the draft Salmon Recovery Strategy just issued by the federal agencies includes using the Clean Water Act to save salmon while they continue to violate the clear requirements of that law," said Nina Bell, Executive Director of NWEA. The lawsuit will challenge EPA's June 22, 1999 approval of Oregon's new standards, finalized by the state in 1996. In the letter, NWEA points out that EPA's own scientists determined that Oregon's criterion for salmon rearing would be "likely to adversely affect" and "pose a risk to the viability of" the threatened and endangered fish. It also targets NMFS' approval of the standards based largely on the federal agency's agreement that the standard poses a threat to salmon. Both agencies relied upon their plan to conduct a three-year regional review of temperature standards as the basis of their approvals.
"The law explicitly requires federal agencies to make decisions based on science and to do it now, not wait until the salmon are extinct," said Bell. She noted that EPA's regional review is slated to end a full ten years after Oregon began the process of revamping its temperature standard in 1992. "A ten year timetable to figure out the correct temperature bodes very badly for how long it will take to provide salmon any relief from the heat." she added.
NWEA also faults EPA for failing to meet Clean Water Act deadlines to issue a temperature standard for the Willamette River, which it is required to do having rejected Oregon's proposed 68 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, EPA is required to reject Oregon's 68 degree standard for the Columbia River, according to the letter. The agency left the Columbia standard in place after it determined that it was not required to take approval action.
EPA and NMFS concluded that exposure of salmon to the 64 degrees standard would cause a variety of non-lethal effects such as reproductive failure, pre-spawning mortality, and decreased resistence to disease. EPA rejected the 68 degree standard because it was not protective.
"The federal agencies are well aware that the vast majority of Oregon's streams are too hot for salmon and that these streams have been targeted for clean-up under the Clean Water Act, yet they approved a clean-up target they know won't fully protect salmon," said Bell. Oregon is in the early stages of preparing Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) clean-up plans for 13,687 miles of streams with unsafe pollution levels, 89 percent of which violate Oregon's temperature standard.
The suit also alleges that EPA has failed to meet the requirements of the ESA to develop a conservation plan for salmon recovery.
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