Court to hear Arguments on the Legality of Water Rights to Operate Enloe Dam

 Center for Environmental Law & Policy
American Whitewater * North Cascades Conservation Council

News Advisory – April 19, 2016

When: Wednesday, April 20 at 9:30 a.m.

Where: Seattle – Washington State Court of Appeals, District 1; One Union Square, 600 University St.

What: Oral argument in a challenge to the Washington State Department of Ecology for issuing water rights that would nearly completely dewater a segment of the Similkameen River while burdening ratepayers with substantial costs.

Plaintiffs: Center for Environmental Law & Policy, American Whitewater, and North Cascades Conservation Council – members of the Hydropower Reform Coalition.

Defendants: Washington State Department of Ecology, Public Utility District No. 1 of Okanogan County, Washington, and Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board


Enloe Dam is a cement plug blocking the free-flowing Similkameen River in north central Washington State and British Columbia. The dam has not generated power since the 1950s, with prior efforts to re-energize the dam being rejected by regulators. The local Public Utility District, Okanogan PUD, once again proposes to electrify the old Enloe Dam, almost completely dewatering an important stretch of the river including Similkameen Falls in violation of Washington water law.

Economic studies, including one by the Okanogan PUD itself, conclude that the project would result in substantial financial losses. The economic risks increase when one considers the fact that the water rights to operate the project violate a forty-year-old regulation that protects instream flows for people and fish. If Okanogan PUD were to move forward, then they could spend millions of ratepayer dollars to build a project without water to operate it. Ratepayers in the Oroville area have vigorously opposed the PUD proposal for financial and other reasons.

Despite the fact that a legally required study to assess the impacts of the Project on aesthetic and recreational resources has not been completed, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) issued a water right to the PUD to divert water from the Similkameen River. River advocates challenged the State’s decision to exploit the public’s waters for an economic loser of a project. On Wednesday, Division 1 of the Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case. The attorney for the river advocates is Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center.


On the PCHB (the Pollution Control Hearings Board or “Board”) correctly requiring an aesthetic analysis of dewatering a river — and then incorrectly approving water rights that would dewater the river:

“Ecology granted a water right for this project at the expense of bedrock principles of Washington water law,” said Andrea Rodgers the Western Environmental Law Center attorney representing the coalition groups. “In particular, the board ruled that it was not necessary to gather information about the aesthetic and recreational impacts of the project until after the hydro project is built. Ecology has put the cart before the horse and in doing so broke laws that protect our state’s precious water resources.”

On the importance of the Similkameen River to the people of Washington State:

“The Similkameen River is a valuable resource to the community for recreation, scenic values, and fish and wildlife. As with other rivers across the state, recognition of the importance of flows for aesthetic and recreational purposes is important to our organization. We will continue to press legal issues that protect the Similkameen River and Falls as multi-use public resource given the significance of this decision for rivers statewide,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director with American Whitewater.

On the statewide significance of this case:

“The water permitting process is designed to make sure that the public’s waters are allocated wisely and protected from over-exploitation. In this case, the Department of Ecology issued a permit that would remove nearly all water from this stretch of the river without ensuring that aesthetic and recreational values would be protected. The Enloe Dam appeal sends a message of statewide significance that the Department of Ecology must promote balanced use of Washington’s waterways,” said Dan Von Seggern with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy.

Links –

Economic Analysis

Appeal Court Brief

Conservationists’ Petition for Review


U.S. Senate: Muzzling Public Education on Water Pollution?

News Release

Immediate release: April 13

Midwestern Republican Senators working to muzzle Water Pollution education project in Washington State

“What’s Upstream?”  focusing on struggling rivers, salmon


  • Trish Rolfe Center for Environmental Law & Policy 206-829-8299
  • Jean Melious Center for Environmental Law & Policy
  • John Osborn MD (Columbia River Future Project, Sierra Club) 509.939-1290

Today, the Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Columbia River Future Project of Sierra Club criticized two U.S. Senators, Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) for pressuring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to kill funding for a public education effort to protect clean water and rivers. While many rivers in Washington State are damaged by agricultural practices, representative of the controversy is the Nooksack River flowing to Puget Sound.

“It is simply a fact that fecal coliform pollution in the Nooksack River violates state water quality standards,” said CELP board member Jean Melious, an attorney and professor of Environmental Studies at Western Washington University. “We have to be able to talk about unregulated industrial agricultural practices on Puget Sounds’ rivers if we are going to fix these problems and help restore Puget Sound.”

The Nooksack River is located in southern B.C. and northwestern Washington, and flows into the Salish Sea (Puget Sound).   Pollution from agricultural operations, as well as illegal water withdrawals in the U.S. have severely damaged the Nooksack River threatening salmon runs while contaminating and contributing to the closure of shellfish beds. A recently released report documents the damaging impacts on Puget Sound from industrial agricultural practices.

In response to water pollution from agricultural practices, conservation groups and tribes undertook a public education effort called What’s Upstream? with funding from EPA. The Washington State Dairy Federation, among other agriculture lobby groups, attacked EPA. Those attacks now are underway in the U.S. Senate, led by Sen. Roberts and Sen. Inhofe.

On April 4, U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Roberts issued a statement criticizing the clean water education effort. Both Roberts and Inhofe have written the inspector general of the EPA asking for an investigation.

“Our rivers are in distress,” said Trish Rolfe, director of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy.   “We are disappointed and troubled that two Senators from the Midwest would try to stop efforts to educate Washington state residents about water pollution from industrial agriculture and the simple steps that agriculture could take that would dramatically improve water quality in our rivers.”

“The public needs to know we can have both clean, healthy rivers and responsible agricultural practices,” said John Osborn, a Spokane physician who directs Sierra Club’s Columbia River Future Project. “We cannot achieve both clean water and food production if industrial agriculture dodges regulation.”

What’s Upstream? Is a project of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, the Swinomish Tribal Indian Community, and the Western Environmental Law Center.   The goal of “What’s Upstream?” is to inform the public about leading causes of water pollution and how that pollution affects the health of Washington’s waterways, people and fish.   The project has been funded wholly or in part by EPA.




Spokane River PCB Cleanup is Not Adequate

News Release  –  April 6, 2016

Spokane River PCB Cleanup is Not Adequate:

Federal Appeals Court Dismisses State-County Appeal

Spokane County, Kaiser, and Department of Ecology had challenged decision to protect Spokane River

Contact –

  • Rachael Paschal Osborn (Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law & Policy)  509.954-5641
  • Richard Smith (Smith & Lowney, PLLC)       206.860-2124
  • Dan Von Seggern (Center for Environmental Law & Policy) 206.829-8299
  • Ted Knight (Spokane Tribe of Indians)  509.953-1908

Spokane:   Advocates for the Spokane River hailed an April 5 decision by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissing the appeal filed by Spokane County, Kaiser Aluminum Washington, LLC, and the State of Washington Department of Ecology (State Ecology). The Ninth Circuit decision lets stand the U.S. District Court’s ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot substitute the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force, a polluter-dominated committee process, for a cleanup plan for Spokane River PCBs.

“The sewage and industrial treatment plants such as City of Spokane and Inland Empire Paper are moving forward with pollution control projects, but absent a clean-up plan, there is no target against which to measure success. After spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, these plans may not measure up,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn of CELP and Sierra Club.

The Spokane River is heavily polluted with PCBs and other toxic chemicals. Despite years of analysis, Ecology and EPA have failed to prepare a clean-up plan for the River. State and EPA-issued pollution discharge permits for municipal and industrial treatment plants in Washington and Idaho do not contain numeric standards limiting the release of toxins into the Spokane River.   The Washington Department of Ecology is due to renew those permits this year, but the agency is not expected to include numeric limits for toxics.

In 2011, the Washington Department of Ecology abandoned efforts to adopt a PCB cleanup plan, largely because of political opposition by Spokane River polluters, who would be required to reduce PCBs in effluent by up to 99% to meet both Washington State and Spokane Tribe water quality standards. These polluters include Inland Empire Paper, Kaiser, and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane sewage treatment plants. Instead, Ecology formed the Spokane River Toxics Task Force and required the polluters to participate, but also gave them control over the goals and activities of the Task Force. Subsequently EPA issued discharge permits to three Idaho dischargers – the City of Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Hayden Water & Sewer District – also not requiring PCB limits and also requiring participation in the Toxics Task Force.

Sierra Club & CELP filed a citizen lawsuit against EPA in 2011. The Spokane Tribe of Indians intervened in support of the citizen lawsuit, and the Department of Ecology, Spokane County and Kaiser intervened to defend EPA. U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled in March 2015 that EPA’s failure to require a clean-up plan was an abuse of discretion and ordered EPA to submit a plan to the Court by July 2015. EPA, Ecology, Kaiser, and Spokane County appealed the ruling, but EPA withdrew its appeal and submitted a document (which fails to require a cleanup plan) to the District Court. On April 5, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Ecology-County-Kaiser appeal in a one-paragraph decision. This means that a CELP-Sierra Club challenge to the EPA’s “non-cleanup plan” document will now move forward in District Court.

“Spokane River fish continue to be heavily contaminated with PCBs,” said Rachael Osborn, senior policy adviser for the Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Spokane River Project Coordinator for Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group.  “Obtaining a PCB cleanup plan is essential to public health and especially important for people who eat fish from the Spokane River, including immigrant populations and Spokane Tribal members.”

“After years of delay on the part of the agencies, the Court today rejected the state’s ‘fox in the chicken coop’ strategy of putting the polluters in charge of a cleanup plan,” Osborn continued, “Instead, the Court has ruled that a real cleanup plan, prepared within a reasonable timeframe, is required.”


Judge Rothstein’s March 2015 decision found that the Task Force is not a proper substitute for a Clean Water Act-mandated limit on PCBs (Total Maximum Daily Load, or “TMDL”), stating (at page 21):

There comes a point at which continual delay of a prioritized TMDL and detours to illusory alternatives ripen into a constructive submission that no action will be taken. With the Task Force as presently proposed, Ecology is coming dangerously close to such a point, and with EPA’s support.   Accordingly, the Court finds that the EPA acted contrary to law in finding the Task Force, as it is currently comprised and described, a suitable “alternative” to the TMDL.

Judge Rothstein also ordered EPA to report back to the Court within 120 days with a specific plan to complete a PCB TMDL (at page 22):

. . . EPA shall work with Ecology to create a definite schedule with concrete goals, including: clear statements on how the Task Force will assist in creating a PCB TMDL in the Spokane River by reducing scientific uncertainty; quantifiable metrics to measure progress toward that goal; regular checkpoints at which Ecology and the EPA will evaluate progress; a reasonable end date, at which time Ecology will finalize and submit the TMDL for the EPA’s approval or disapproval; and firm commitments to reduce PCB production from known sources in the interim.


PCBs are a group of industrial compounds associated with liver dysfunction and cancer, and are now banned in the United States.   Washington State formally recognizes that the Spokane River is impaired for PCBs.  The Department of Ecology issues pollution permits (known as NPDES permits) to companies (such as Inland Empire Paper and Kaiser) and municipalities, allowing them to pollute the Spokane River up to certain thresholds.

When a river is listed for PCBs, the federal Clean Water Act requires a cleanup plan (a TMDL) before issuing any permits that would add more PCBs to the Spokane River.  The Washington Department of Ecology is attempting to sidestep the law by not preparing a PCB cleanup plan, and issuing NPDES permits anyway.

Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Richard Smith and Marc Zemel of Smith & Lowney, a Seattle firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation.  The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.

Links –


Boise Conference on Ethics, Hells Canyon Dams, and the Columbia River Treaty – March 14, 2016

News Advisory



  • When: March 14, 8:30am-4:00pm
  • Where: Boise State University, Student Union Building
  • Cost: Free and open to the public
  • RSVP:
  • RSVP Deadline: March 10

Religious and tribal leaders from the Snake River and Columbia Basins will lead a one-day conference on ethics and the future of the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The conference is spurred by two events: re-negotiation of the U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty, and re-licensing of Idaho Power Company’s Hells Canyon Complex of dams.

Many are unaware of the Snake River and Columbia River dams’ negative effects to native people, and the exclusion of native people from the decisions to build them. Speakers will explore ethical frameworks for these decisions that embrace indigenous people, salmon and the waters of both rivers. Native people impacted directly by dam-building will describe past and present effects on their people and cultures, and native and religious leaders will describe opportunities to modernize river management that promote justice for all people and the health of the river.

This is the third in a conference series titled “One River, Ethics Matter,” to explore the moral dimensions of the dam-building era, with a focus on Indian tribes and First Nations, and the rivers themselves. The Columbia River Pastoral Letter, issued by Northwest Catholic bishops in 2001, provides a foundation and framework for the conference series. This series is modeled on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation public dialogue in the wake of apartheid. This Boise conference follows two in Spokane and Portland.

Speakers include: Charlotte Rodrique, chair of the Burns-Paiute Tribe; Pauline Terbasket, director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance in British Columbia; Bishop Martin Wells, Eastern Washington-Idaho Lutheran Synod; Ted Howard, cultural resources director of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes; Leotis McCormack, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee; and Rabbi Daniel Fink of Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise.

Earlier conferences in Spokane and Portland explored the profound effects of dams from Grand Coulee upstream on tribes and First Nations, and how protecting flood plain settlement and development in the Portland area has come at the cost of permanently flooding river valleys and native homelands upstream. The Boise conference will examine companion issues in the Snake River as well as the Columbia.

Hosted by
Departments of Anthropology and Political Science & School of Public Service
Boise State University

Spokane River advocates petition state to increase summertime water flow

Water is needed for river health, fish, recreational boaters, and scenic beauty

March 1, 2016

Spokane – On Monday, advocates for the Spokane River petitioned the Washington Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) to increase its flow rule for the popular and heavily-used Spokane River.  The Spokane River is a much beloved urban river that flows through the second largest city in Washington State, including spectacular waterfalls and a deep gorge. Conservationists are seeking a minimum summertime flow of 1,800 – 2800 cubic feet per second (CFS) to support fisheries and recreation, and protect higher flows for recreation when available.

“We are asking Washington state to ‘go with the flow,’ amend its inadequate flow rule, and protect the people’s river,” said John Roskelley, kayaker, author, and vice president of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Last summer the whole community lived through drought and witnessed the Spokane River reduced to a trickle amid boulder fields. The state has a trust responsibility for our river, and must do its job.”

Nearly 2,000 comments, including boater surveys and aesthetic inventories, were submitted to the Department of Ecology during the public-comment period on the draft rule. The state agency ignored all public comments in support of protecting the Spokane River, and adopted unchanged its flow rule of 850 CFS – river flows that are low and jeopardize the Spokane River and public uses.

Petitioners have retained Dr. Doug Whittaker and Dr. Bo Shelby, who are experts in recreation and aesthetic flows from Confluence Research and Consulting, to evaluate appropriate flows. Drs. Shelby and Whittaker participated in establishing aesthetic flows for Spokane Falls, and are the foremost national experts on flows. They conclude that the Department of Ecology’s adopted flows are inadequate to support most types of recreational boating on the river. Higher flows in the Spokane River, when available, should be protected. Read their full report here.

“Spokane River fisheries need cold, abundant water,” said Roskelley. “The Department of Ecology erred in concluding that more water is bad for fish, thereby justifying its decision not to protect Spokane River flows.” In response, petitioners submitted a report prepared by Prof. Allan Scholz, retired Eastern Washington University fisheries biologist and professor. Prof. Scholz is author of a multivolume treatise on Eastern Washington fisheries, and is one of the foremost experts on Spokane River redband trout.

Prof. Scholz determined that the state’s flow rule — setting the Spokane River flow rate at 850 CFS below the Monroe Street Dam in the summer — is inadequate to protect and restore a healthy redband trout population, and that the scientific study prepared in support of the rate was flawed. Conservationists point out that the Department of Ecology could have accommodated the needs of both river recreationists and fish without sacrificing fish.

“Our city owes its origins, its beauty, and a great deal of its past and present life to the Spokane River,” said Tom Soeldner, co-chair of Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group based in Spokane.  “It would be a betrayal of the river and our identity if we did not maintain healthy and aesthetic river flows.”

Petitioners point out that Ecology has a duty under state law and the public trust doctrine to amend the rule to adopt flows that are fully protective of all public instream values, including fish and wildlife, recreation, navigation, water quality, and scenic beauty. Flows that are not protected are at risk to be diverted from the Spokane River for out-of-stream water uses, including Idaho pumpers, the City of Spokane, and the Office of the Columbia River’s Spokane-Rathdrum ASR project.

“Excluding rafters, kayakers, and canoeists in setting flows sets a dangerous precedent for Washington State’s rivers,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director for American Whitewater “Our state’s river face many demands but ultimately we have a collective responsibility for the stewardship and protection of our state’s rivers, and Department of Ecology must protect the diversity of beneficial uses our rivers provide including recreation.”

In setting instream flows, the Department of Ecology failed to listen to boaters who use the Spokane River and businesses that depend on Spokane River recreation. Ecology also failed to conduct a basic assessment of the scenic values of the Spokane River as it flows through the gorge and Riverside State Park – important to users of the Centennial Trail and others.

“The state needs to fulfill its trust and stewardship responsibilities to protect the Spokane River for present and future generations,” said Andrea Rodgers, attorney with Western Environmental Law Center. “Setting flow rates for the river that do not protect fish, sacrifice recreational boaters’ uses of the river, and cost Spokane businesses needed income is an abdication of the state’s legal duty.”

The Department of Ecology has 60 days to respond to the citizens’ petition. Petitioners are Sierra Club, CELP, and American Whitewater, and are represented by attorneys Andrea Rodgers (WELC) and Dan Von Seggern (CELP).

Links –

Religious leader to be honored for advancing ethics for Columbia River

Bishop William Skylstad led The Columbia River Pastoral Letter team, which set forth an ethics foundation for dialogue on Columbia River concerns

The Letter would “…serve as a catalyst for further discussion toward the resolution of the complex issues of the Columbia River Watershed” in order… “to effect a spiritual, social and ecological transformation of the watershed.”  – The Columbia River Pastoral Letter

Pastoral LetterWhen: Friday evening, March 4, 2016, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m.

Where: Spokane, Patsy Clark Mansion 2208 West 2nd Ave.

Who: Bishop William Skylstad and members of the Steering Committee for The Columbia River Pastoral Letter

Contacts & RSVP:   John Osborn 509.939-1290; Tom Soeldner 509.270-6995

Tickets: $35 per person

Timeliness and relevance: After over eight years of review and discussion, the United States and Canada are moving closer to renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty.   This year also marks the 15th anniversary of the publication of The Columbia River Pastoral Letter that sought to “serve as a catalyst for further discussion toward the resolution of the complex issues of the Columbia River Watershed.”

The Columbia River Pastoral Letter is a unique international document signed by the Catholic Bishops of the international watershed, which uses environmental criteria rather than political boundaries to define its scope. Published in 2001, the Pastoral Letter was based on Catholic teaching of caring for God’s creation and involved a series of basin-wide listening sessions conducted by a steering committee chaired by Bishop William Skylstad.

The pastoral letter was chosen as a foundation for the ongoing conference series “One River, Ethics Matter” in the Columbia Basin. The conference series, modeled after South Africa’s “Truth & Reconciliation Process” on the impacts of apartheid, focuses on the wrenching impacts of the dam-building era on Columbia Basin tribes and First Nations, and the river. Using the pastoral letter, these conferences encourage a regional dialogue in the United States and Canada about modernizing the Columbia River Treaty based on ethical principles of stewardship and justice. Conferences were held at Gonzaga University in Spokane (2014), and the University of Portland (2015). The next conference will be held March 14 at Boise State University.

Pope Francis’s Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, and the Columbia River Pastoral Letter provide powerful tools for encouraging respectful dialogue and improving the quality of ethical decision about the global environment in a time of climate change.

About this honoring event:  “Winter Waters” is held annually in Spokane to celebrate work to restore the Upper Columbia River and honor people who have made a significant contribution to protecting water for the common good. The event is jointly hosted by Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, with the awards presented by Sierra Club.

Event Sponsors:  Upper Columbia United Tribes  *  Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  *  Catholic Diocese of Spokane  *  Tom Soeldner & Linda Finney  *  John & Joyce Rosekelley  *  Chris & Michelle Kopczynski  *  Jeff Lambert  *  Burl O. Gray (in memorium)  *  Eymann Allison Hunter Jones PS  *  Smith & Lowney, PLLC  *  John & Rachael Osborn


WSU water plan falls short in many ways

WSU Water Plan:  Friday is deadline for public comment

Email comments to:
WSU release on topic:


Washington State University’s plan for protecting its Pullman campus water supply is too optimistic about the potential for storing spring runoff as a supplement to its declining groundwater supply, conservationists say. Friday is the final day for public comment on the university’s draft water plan, which the state Department of Health requires it to write.

Conservationists have concerns about the draft WSU Water Plan that include:

  • Too much reliance on the possibility of storing spring runoff from the Palouse River underground. A suitable underground place to store the water has yet to be found, and the method has not worked well for other communities in Washington.
  • Lack of water meters on 57% of campus buildings and landscaping. WSU is behind in meeting the state requirement to track how much water is used, and monitor for leaks. WSU has failed in the 13 years since the Municipal Water Law was enacted to meter all of its service connections.
  • Lack of a solid water conservation messaging plan, so that students, faculty and the greater community can be part of the solution.
  • Continued deference to Palouse Ridge Golf Club. The university course, operated by Course Co. Inc., uses 10 percent of water on campus. The water for the golf course, as well as the electrical energy to pump it, is provided to the corporation free of charge. Nowhere else can a private entrepreneur get 48 million gallons of water a year for free to run its business.
  • The university has failed in its attempts to get state funding for a system that would use reclaimed water for golf course irrigation and other campus landscaping. WSU could easily fund this project were it serious about conserving our groundwater.

Conservationists also questioned a report, cited in WSU’s water plan, that contends that the aquifer is being recharged nearly as quickly as the water is pumped. According to the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee, the aquifer is dropping nearly seven-tenths of a foot each year.

“While WSU Pullman is using less water than it has in the past, it is falling short in many ways,” said John Osborn with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “WSU shows little regard for its neighbors, Pullman and Moscow, Idaho as well as nearby rural residents, as the Grande Ronde Aquifer on which all rely, continues to drop. Science can’t say when the water will drop too low to pump, but they know that day of reckoning will come.”

“Relying on recharging the pure 10,000 year-old water in the aquifer with contaminated surface water is a questionable strategy,” said Al Poplawsky, chair of Sierra Club’s Palouse Group. “Conservation of our pristine, irreplaceable water should come first.”

The Grande Ronde aquifer, the sole source of water for many in the Palouse Basin, is very high quality ice-age water. When Pullman was being developed, there were artesian wells. Now, the water is far underground. “This is not a resource to be squandered,” noted David Hall. “WSU has conserved water in some areas, but it should be more aggressive with continued conservation and education goals.”

Nearby resident Scotty Cornelius also has a well in the Grande Ronde Aquifer, and his water level is dropping at the same rate. “Unlike WSU, I can’t afford to drill 800 feet to water. WSU frequently describes itself as oriented toward sustainability initiatives, but our declining aquifer is the biggest sustainability issue on the Palouse and WSU is squandering this precious resource.”


Portland Conference on Ethics, Columbia River Treaty

News Advisory:  October 13

Regional river ethics conference to focus on Portland’s floodplain development, international impacts, modernizing the Columbia River Treaty


  • Steve Kolmes, PhD, University of Portland (503) 943-7291
  • Jim Heffernan, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (503) 731-1303
  • John Osborn MD, Ethics & Treaty Project (509) 939-1290


  • When: October 24, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Where: University of Portland – Buckley Center Auditorium
  • Cost: Free and open to the public
  • RSVP: Belgin Inan  503.943-8342
  • RSVP deadline: October 16


One month after Pope Francis spoke to Congress, the people of the Portland region are invited to join in a discussion about ethics and the future of the Columbia River Treaty that governs water management in the river basin. The conference will open with comments from Bishop William Skylstad on the Columbia River Pastoral Letter and Leotis McCormack (Nez Perce Tribe and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission) on indigenous people, salmon, and the river. Next, tribal elders and others impacted directly by the dam-building era will describe epic losses suffered in the Columbia Basin.  The conference will conclude with a panel discussion about the important opportunity to modernize the Columbia River Treaty through upcoming negotiations between Canada and the United States.

Portland’s conference location is near the site of the 1948 Vanport Flood. While power development objectives initiated discussion with Canada in 1944 about a water treaty, the Vanport Flood accelerated the technical studies that led to the Columbia River Treaty. Edward Washington survived the Vanport flood and will recall what happened to his family and community on that terrible day. Crystal Spicer, from interior British Columbia, will describe the Treaty dams’ impacts on her family, neighbors, and the Upper Columbia, including the forced relocation of 2,300 people from family and ancestral lands that were flooded under the Treaty. The conference will explore various measures that can be used to right historic wrongs resulting from the dam-building era such as restoring salmon to historical spawning areas now blocked by dams, and improving floodplain management in the face of climate change.

Modeled on South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation” public meetings, the “One River, Ethics Matter” conference series explores the moral dimensions and impacts of the dam-building era with a focus on tribes, First Nations, salmon and the river. Gonzaga University hosted the first conference in Spokane in May 2014, where religious leaders issued the Declaration on Ethics & Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty. The October 24th conference is the second conference in the series and focuses on flood risk management, climate change, justice, and stewardship.

International water conflicts are a growing global risk in the face of climate change.  “One River, Ethics Matter” uses the Columbia River Pastoral Letter and builds upon the tools used by international water forums to help establish a water ethic as a foundation for modernizing the Columbia River Treaty.


Hosted by the University of Portland



McNerney-Hanson Chair in Ethics  *  Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission  *  Columbia Basin Revitalization Coalition  *  Environmental Studies Department, University of Portland  *  Okanagan Nation Alliance  *  Upper Columbia United Tribes  *  Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon  *  Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation  *  Pacific Rivers Council  *  WaterWatch of Oregon  *  Citizens for a Clean Columbia  *  Columbia Riverkeeper  *  Salmo Watershed Streamkeepers Society  *  Sweo Chair in Engineering  *  Center for Environmental Law & Policy  *  The Roskelley Family  *  Molter Chair in Science   *  Save Our Wild Salmon  *  Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture  *  Columbia Institute for Water Policy  *  Loo Wit Group, Sierra Club  *  Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Washington State Chapter  *  ATRIA  *  Francis Maltby  *  Oregon Chapter, Sierra Club  *  Oregon Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Washington Supreme Court protects water flowing in streams

Decision part of growing concern about Department of Ecology mismanaging state’s waters in face of climate change

Deschutes River - Photo from WA Dept of Ecology

Deschutes River – Photo from WA Dept of Ecology

On October 8th, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against Ecology’s approval of the City of Yelm’s new water right because the new right would impair existing instream flows in local streams and the Nisqually River. The Court concluded that the state agency’s decision was unlawful because Ecology improperly used a narrow exception in the water code to issue the right, and because Ecology relied on out-of-kind mitigation measures to justify issuance of the water right.   The legal action brought by Sara Foster, a small farm owner in the City of Yelm, was filed in 2011 because of concerns that overpumping groundwater would adversely impact local waterways. This latest decision is set in the context of growing criticism about the Department of Ecology’s mismanagement of the state’s waters through historic over-allocation of water rights and in the face of climate change.

“The Supreme Court’s decision reaffirms the state’s responsibility to protect instream flows,” said Patrick Williams, attorney for Sara Foster. “The decision makes it clear that Ecology must abide by state water laws when approving new water rights.”

The Foster decision means that the Department of Ecology, which is responsible for managing the state’s waters, cannot issue new water rights that will permanently deplete protected flows in rivers.

“I’m thrilled with the decision because it means the water levels in streams in rivers I, and others, enjoy so much will be protected now and in the future,” said Sara Foster, plaintiff in the case.

The Foster decision reaffirms a 2013 Supreme Court decision in a case brought by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community to protect stream flows in the Skagit River basin. In Swinomish, the Court held that Ecology could not use the narrow water code exemption permanently impair existing instream flows through water reservations for future use. Pursuant to today’s decision, Ecology cannot issue individual water rights that would impact instream flows. Together, Swinomish and Foster underscore that Ecology cannot continue to deplete river flows to meet future water demand.

“It is time for the state to look at water efficiency and conservation and water reuse for new sources of water instead of taking water from instream flows,” added Williams. “The water frontier is over.”

The Foster decision also holds that Ecology may not use non-water environmental restoration projects as a basis for issuing water rights. Ecology has issued a handful of water right decisions allowing river depletion in exchange for activities such as wetland restoration, floodplain easements, placement of large woody debris in rivers, and monetary payments.

“Ecology is increasingly relying on “out-of-kind” mitigation projects as a basis for issuing new water rights,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, senior policy adviser for the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Today the Court has clarified that habitat projects or monetary payments cannot substitute for water. This is a very good decision for Washington’s over-allocated and much-depleted rivers and aquifers.”

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy provided support to Sara Foster through its Water Rights 9-1-1 program helping citizens struggling with water resource issues, and filed a “friend of the court” brief in the case.

CELP Files Legal Action to Stop Pollution from Leavenworth Hatchery

For 36 years, federal hatchery has been illegally polluting Icicle Creek

Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery - photo by John OsbornTuesday September 29, 2015 – Today, the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) and Wild Fish Conservancy announced they filed legal action to compel the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to clean-up the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery now polluting Icicle Creek.

FWS discharges a wide variety of pollutants into Icicle Creek from the federal hatchery located near Leavenworth, Washington, without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. An NPDES permit is required by the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and would place limits on pollutant discharges. The Hatchery’s permit expired in 1979, and for the past thirty-six years FWS has operated the hatchery in violation of the CWA. Despite repeated requests over many years to update the Hatchery’s operations, including a 60-day notice filed in July, federal officials have continued to operate the facility without obtaining a new permit.

Pollutants released from the Hatchery to Icicle Creek include disease control chemicals, pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus, antibiotics, chemicals used for disinfection and other fish culture purposes, residual chemical reagents, salts, and chlorinated water. The excess phosphorus discharged by the Hatchery has caused violations of the applicable water quality criterion for pH in lower Icicle Creek. This phosphorus loading also contributes to violations of water quality standards in the Wenatchee River.

Icicle Creek - photo by John Osborn

Icicle Creek – photo by John Osborn

“The Clean Water Act is the main mechanism through which pollution of our waters is prevented, and the Hatchery is obligated to apply for a permit and to operate according to its conditions,” said Dan Von Seggern, staff attorney for CELP. “Filing a lawsuit is a last resort. However, a great deal of effort by many groups and individuals to get the Hatchery to obey the law has been unsuccessful. This litigation is aimed at ensuring that the federal agency carries out its work to augment salmon runs without harming Icicle Creek.”

“By not having a current NPDES permit, the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery has been in violation of the Clean Water Act for thirty five years,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “Over the past fifteen years we have worked with local citizens and representatives of state, federal, and tribal agencies to try to get the Leavenworth Hatchery to comply with state and federal law to protect and restore native fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act and to restore the integrity of the Icicle Creek ecosystem. It is discouraging to realize that yet again the Hatchery blatantly disregards its legal obligations and the needs of the Icicle Creek ecosystem. The saddest part of this is the public is unknowingly paying for it.”

The Leavenworth National Hatchery was constructed between 1939 and 1941 near Leavenworth, Washington, and is located on the banks of Icicle Creek approximately three miles from the river’s confluence with the Wenatchee River. The federal hatchery has a long history of violations of federal environmental laws. Despite repeated attempts, including litigation, the federal facility continues to be in violation of federal laws, notably the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.

Wild Fish Conservancy and CELP are represented by Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC of Portland, OR.

Link –

Contacts –

  • Dan Von Seggern, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, 206.829-8299
  • Contact: Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, 425-788-1167
  • Brian Knutsen, Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC, 503-841-6515