Honoring Upper Columbia United Tribes with the Ralph Johnson Water Hero Award

On May 21 we invite you to Celebrate Water 2015 by joining CELP members to honor the Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) at Ivar’s Salmon House in Seattle.  Click here for event information.

The five Tribes of UCUT are the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho.

Even while Canada and the United States continue to posture on modernizing the Columbia River Treaty, UCUT is moving forward with the first phase to return salmon home to ancestral spawning waters of the Upper Columbia.  This is an historically important first step.  The Tribes (and First Nations in Canada) need public support to bring the salmon home.

Chiefs, Grand Coulee DamIn 1942, 450 years after Columbus stepped foot in the Americas and less than 140 years after David Thompson and Lewis & Clark stepped foot into the Columbia River Basin, the gates at Grand Coulee dam in the U.S. closed with the tacit approval of the Canadian government.  No passage was provided for the millions of salmon returning each year to the Upper Columbia, as key species for the environment.  Tribes and First Nations were never consulted.

What were the consequences of those Columbia River dams — besides cheap power for communities like Seattle, flood control for Portland, and other benefits mostly for non-Indian people?  For indigenous people, the salmon, and the river ecosystem, the consequences were devastating.  With the closing of those gates at Grand Coulee dam, the waters began to rise.  A whole way of life in those river valleys that had existed from “time immemorial” was drowned, permanently flooded.

Traumas move through generations.  Suicide rates remain high on Indian reservations, especially among Indian youth.  In recent months, both the Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Colvilles have declared suicide emergencies.  Recognizing that mental health and ecosystem health are linked, and the importance of salmon to their cultures, all five Tribes are moving forward with returning salmon to the Upper Columbia.  Their efforts in rebuilding the salmon runs of the Upper Columbia benefits all people – indigenous or nonindgenous – in the Columbia Basin, Puget Sound, and the West Coast.

As a region, we have never confronted what happened here to these people as a result of the dam-building era.  As Bishop Skylstad so eloquently spoke at the Gonzaga University conference last May on Ethics & the Treaty:  Righting Historic Wrongs,

“Have we, as a dominant culture — and sometimes a domineering culture — said to our native peoples,  ‘Will you forgive us?’  Have we done that?   I don’t think we have.”

(For more, view the short film One River. Ethics Matter, or learn about the Ethics & Treaty Project).

On May 21 at Ivar’s Salmon House in Seattle, we will be honoring UCUT (and through them, the indigenous people of the Upper Columbia) for their leadership in restoring salmon and the river.  CELP is also working with UCUT to promote a new film, Treaty Talks that helps tell the story.

Links –

– Spokesman Review, Upper Columbia Tribes seek to restore river’s salmon runs

CELP Hiring Staff Attorney

Center for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP), is seeking candidates for a full-time Staff Attorney. This position will focus on agency advocacy, public interest litigation, policy and legislative work, public outreach, and administrative support. Please see full job description here.

To apply please e-mail cover letter, resume, writing sample (not more than 10 pages), transcript, and references to Trish Rolfe at by February 15, 2015.

Washington Water Watch (August 2014 Edition)

Did you miss our August Edition of Washington Water Watch in your inbox?

Click here to view the PDF version of our newsletter.

Don’t miss out on our update on the protection of Similkameen Falls and an excellent recap of the Columbia River Treaty Multifaith Prayer Vigils!

Columbia River Treaty Prayer Vigil Recap

By Adam Wicks-Arshack, canoe-builder, educator, and CELP Member

On August 1st 2014, a series of prayer vigils began in Astoria, Oregon.  For 16 consecutive days along the Columbia River, multi-faith prayer vigils were held to provide a forum for Columbia River citizens to gather to pray, sing, share stories and break bread.  These vigils not only helped raise awareness about the Columbia River Treaty, fish passage, and the health of the river, but most importantly it brought diverse groups of people together from all walks of faith.

Adam Wicks-Arshack begins the prayer vigil at Fort Colville, Kettle Falls, WA. Photo by John Roskelley.

Adam Wicks-Arshack begins the prayer vigil at Fort Colville, Kettle Falls, WA. Photo by John Roskelley.

Some of the highlights:

Astoria, OR – Over 50 people gathered at the waterfront park in solidarity against coal export terminals, LNG exports and the continued exploitation of the Columbia River.  While this community has been fighting for some time against these exploitations, the community organized by the Columbia Riverkeeper found great joy in the opportunity to gather around something positive.  To pray for the health of the Columbia River, to pray for the return of the salmon to the upper river and to share stories about their own personal connection to the Columbia River.

Longview, WA – On Sunday afternoon, over 150 people, along with drummers and singers, greeted the Cowlitz Tribe’s canoe family as they paddled into the Prayer Vigil at Willow Grove.  Five different Christian faiths from the community were represented and the chief of the Cowlitz Tribe shared some very powerful words of hope and wisdom.  Many speakers spoke and prayed about the importance of returning the salmon above Grand Coulee dam and back into Canada, as this is something that would positively impact the river as a whole.  Two beautiful songs were sung by all of the attendees, “Come Down to the River to Pray” and “The River Song.” Click here for The Daily News Online coverage.

Hood River, OR – A very diverse group of Columbia River citizens gathered to dance, sing and pray at the waterfront park in Hood River, OR.  The vigil began with a dance which came from Crow Indian tradition and was followed by all of the attendees sharing their personal connection to water and the Columbia River.  The vigil then moved down to the river where people were instructed to touch the water and throw it into the air following a very moving prayer and harmonica rendition of “Shanandoah.” Click here for Hood River News Coverage.

Wanapum Village Longhouse (Hanford/Priest Rapids Dam) – The Wanapum Tribe hosted a very powerful vigil at their longhouse.  Delicious first foods were shared along with songs, prayers and stories.

Two Rivers, WA (Confluence of Spokane and Columbia River) – Hosted by members of the Spokane Tribe and faith leaders from Spokane, 50 Columbia River citizens gathered to share stories and pray for the Columbia River.  This was the first vigil to be located up-river of Grand Coulee and the mood was more somber but each spoke of hope for the future.  An Okanagan woman who drove over 8 hours to attend the vigil sang “Amazing Grace” in her traditional language followed by the whole group singing it in English.  Many elders spoke, as did knowledge-keepers from visiting tribes.  Speakers spoke about the importance of the Columbia River Treaty and the value of salmon, a healthy river, and leaving a lasting legacy for the youth.

Kettle Falls, WA – About 30 people from Inchelium, Kettle Falls, Northport and the surrounding area gathered at St. Pauls Mission.  Everyone then walked out to the sharpening stone, which overlooks the now flooded historic salmon fishing site of Kettle Falls.  The vigil began with a beautiful Columbia River Song and a moment of silence to remember the falls, the salmon and all those who fished the powerful waters of Kettle Falls.  The vigil continued with people sharing poems, prayers songs, and reflections on a river that once was.

Trail, BC – About 20 people gathered at Gyro park.  The vigil opened with a greeting in the Okanagan language from the Chief of the Lower Similkameen Band.  All attendees shared their connection to the Columbia River and a young child sang a beautiful River Song with her grandfather.

Nakusp, BC – Over 50 people came together on the shore of Upper Arrow Lake in Nakusp to pray for the health of the Columbia River.  Very powerful prayers, songs and stories were shared by people of Sinixt heritage.  Prayers from the Christian faith were also shared along with songs and stories from locals of the Nakusp area. Before a wonderful meal, all attendees were asked to wash their hands in the river, to connect with the waters.

Revelstoke, BC – Fifteen people from the Revelstoke area gathered to pray for and reflect on the Columbia River.  The vigil opened with a thank you and acknowledgement to local First Nations followed by songs and prayers directed towards the river.  The attendees of the vigil then went down to the river and attached a prayer or a thought to a rock and tossed it into the river.

Adam Wicks-Arshack is a master canoe-builder.  In 2013 he and other voyageurs worked with Tribal youth to build canoes, then paddled canoes upriver from Pacific Ocean to the Columbia River headwaters.  Their canoe journey brought regional focus on modernizing the Treaty and  returning salmon home to ancestral spawning waters in the Upper Columbia River.  Adam is working with CELP on our Ethics & Columbia River Treaty project.  To view films of his voyage click here.

Other Media Coverage of the Prayer Vigils:

KPLU– “Tribes Urge U.S., Canada To Update Columbia River Treaty

Oregon Live, The Associated Press– “Native American tribes hold vigils for Columbia River salmon

Celebrate Water Silent Auction

We are excited to announce there will be a Silent Auction during this year’s Celebrate Water Reception. Auction packages include beach and mountain vacations, artwork, exotic wines, and more!

Click here to read the most up to date list of items you can bid on to support CELP.

100% of proceeds from the auction will benefit CELP!

Update on CELP’s work to Modernize the Columbia River Treaty

by John Osborn, MD

CELP Board President

Protecting Columbia River flows is an important and longstanding part of CELP’s mission.  From our 2000 publication of “Columbia River Vision” and petition for instream flow rulemaking, to our 2014 appeal of the Kennewick Hospital/Easterday water right (challenging issuance of a large new water right without instream flow conditions), the Columbia River has been a key part of CELP’s work for many years.

Two years ago, CELP added a new item to our Columbia River portfolio when we began work in support of Columbia Basin Tribes and First Nations on modernizing the Columbia River Treaty. The Treaty is an agreement between the U.S. and Canada to manage the river to maximize hydropower production and flood control. The terms of the Treaty change in 2024 and this year the two nations are evaluating whether to negotiate to modernize the Treaty. A foremost concern is how to incorporate a new purpose into the Treaty:  improvements in ecosystem function. For more information about the basics, see CELP’s Columbia River Treaty page.

In April 2013, CELP and Save Our Wild Salmon encouraged the Columbia River Tribes and conservation groups to gather in Portland to coordinate strategy in the United States. Out of that meeting, conservation groups formed the Columbia River Treaty Conservation Caucus. Caucus members began work with Canadian groups and citizens to begin building an international alliance for treaty reform. This year, CELP co-sponsored a conference in Spokane on ethics and the treaty. In late May, on behalf of CELP, I met with the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. to encourage treaty reforms. Below is a summary of the Declaration that issued from Gonzaga conference, followed by an update on Treaty status.

Kettle Falls

Kettle Falls was an important salmon fishing site on the Columbia River, and a place of great sustenance for indigenous people: Lakes People, Okanagans, Flatheads, Spokanes, Kalispells, Coeur d’Alenes, Sanpoils, Wenatchees, Entiats, interior Salish-speaking people, and others. In 1940 Grand Coulee dam permanently flooded Kettle Falls. CELP is joining with Tribes, First Nations, and others to return salmon to the Upper Columbia River.
Photo Credit: Spokane Camera Club

Declaration calls for modernizing Columbia River Treaty to right historic wrongs, advance stewardship.

On May 13 people gathered at Gonzaga University in Spokane from around the Columbia Basin to attend a CELP-sponsored conference, Ethics & the Treaty:  Righting Historic Wrongs.  Participants heard first-hand accounts of terrible losses suffered by indigenous people as a result of dam-building on the Columbia River, and approved a Declaration calling on Canada and the United States for specific actions to right historic wrongs and achieve stewardship in managing the Columbia River.

Ethics & the Treaty presenters included Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad, Evangelical Lutheran Bishop Martin Wells, Okanagan Nation Alliance executive director Pauline Terbasket, Upper Columbia United Tribes executive director D.R. Michel, and many indigenous voices.  (Click here to watch a short film from the Gonzaga Conference.)

The Declaration notes that rights and management authorities of the Columbia Basin tribes in the U.S. and the First Nations in Canada were ignored in the Treaty ratified in 1964.   Dams, including those built as a part of Treaty implementation, inflicted epic damage to the Columbia River and indigenous people who depended on native fish and wildlife.  The trust obligations of the U.S. and Canada to ensure healthy, sustainable populations of salmon, sturgeon, lamprey, bull trout and other native fish and wildlife, their habitats, and other cultural resources within the Columbia River Basin, were not provided for in the Treaty.  Indeed, Tribes and First Nations were not even consulted during its negotiation in the 1960s.

In responding to the ethical breaches of the 1964 Treaty, the Declaration on Ethics and modernizing the Columbia River Treaty recognizes the Columbia River Pastoral Letter, authored by the bishops of the international watershed, as a template for decision-makers in both nations as they consider the moral dimensions of Treaty re-negotiations.

The Declaration sets forth eight principles for modernizing the Columbia River Treaty.

  • Respect the rights, dignity and traditions of the Columbia Basin tribes and First Nations by including them in the implementation and management of the Treaty.
  • Include healthy ecosystem function as an equal purpose of the Treaty.
  • Achieve balance among river uses for hydroelectric power production, coordinated flood risk management, and healthy waters and flows that provide for abundant and sustainable native fish and wildlife populations.
  • Develop flow and water management operations to help people, native species, and entire ecosystems withstand climate change.
  • Provide for ecosystem management of the region while protecting other river uses, including tribal commercial, and tribal ceremonial and subsistence activities.
  • Engage local communities in a meaningful manner that is transparent and inclusive during renegotiation and future management of the Treaty.
  • Address economic and environmental justice for the poor along with other aspects of economic development.
  • Restore anadromous and resident fish passage to all historical locations throughout the Columbia River basin, including Chief Joseph, Grand Coulee, Hugh Keenleyside, Brilliant, and Waneta dams.

The conference was hosted by Gonzaga University’s Political Science Department, Native American Studies, and Environmental Studies, held in Spokane on May 13.


Status of Treaty Negotiations

The U.S. State Department is expected to announce the United States’ negotiating position on the Columbia River Treaty later in 2014.  Federal agencies have recommended that the United States and Canada “develop a modernized framework for the Treaty that ensures a more resilient and healthy ecosystem-based function throughout the Columbia River Basin while maintaining an acceptable level of flood risk and assuring reliable and economic hydropower benefits.”  All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation.

In March, British Columbia released its draft recommendation that the Treaty be renewed and that changes occur within the existing framework.  The B.C. Province holds that ecosystem values are currently and should continue to be an important consideration, as well as adaptation to climate change, in Treaty planning and implementation.  The federal government in Ottawa has not yet announced Canada’s position.

Over the coming year, CELP will continue its partnership with faith, Tribal and community leaders to promote basin-wide respectful dialogue seeking ethics-based reforms to the Columbia River Treaty.  Modernization of the Columbia River Treaty is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make real reforms that translate to real ecosystem improvements – including for instream flows – for the Columbia River.



2014 Ralph W. Johnson Award

CELP is pleased to announce that the recipient of our 2014 Ralph W. Johnson Award is Ann Aagaard. Please join us as we present this award at our annual Celebrate Water event on June 25, 2014 at Ivar’s Salmon House in Seattle, WA. Read on to learn more about Ann’s many accomplishments, penned by her husband, Knut Aagaard. 

For over 40 years Ann Aagaard has been a faithful and wise steward of our state waters and land, and of our communities, whole-heartedly committed to good government as the means by which public stewardship is exercised.  In that good work she has been joined by very many dedicated people.

Ann Aagaard

Ann Aagaard, 2014 Recipient of the Ralph W. Johnson Water Hero Award. Photo credit Andrea Perry.

Ann has been deeply involved with the League of Women Voters on state-wide issues of shoreline and natural resource management; on the Washington State Ecological Commission dealing with the consequences of proposed toxic waste incineration in Lind, of excessive water demands from resort development in the Methow, of disturbances from port development in Whatcom County, and with the review of all proposed Department of Ecology regulations; on King County’s Boundary Review Board, Agricultural Task Force, and Growth Management Task Force; on County Executive Randy Revelle’s Executive Advisory Committee; on the Department of Ecology’s SEPA Advisory Committee, Shorelines Review Task Force, and others; and on the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Research Advisory Council.  Not least, acting simply as a citizen she has repeatedly called Bothell, King County, the Department of Ecology, the Wenatchee National Forest, and other powers into public accountability.  She successfully challenged the logging industry and the U.S. Forest Service to protect rare and endangered plants in the Wenatchee Mountains.  She taught biology at Cleveland and Roosevelt high schools, Sunday School and confirmation classes in her home church, was Campfire Girls leader, PTSA Legislative Chair, and president of Friends of Saint Edwards State Park.  The list is long and diverse.

Her informed and principled engagement includes a number of landmark events: the 1978 Washington Supreme Court decision in S.A.V.E. vs. City of Bothell which broadly defined legal standing for environmental advocates; the state-wide Shoreline Master Program Guidelines negotiated with the Department of Ecology in 2003; and perhaps most striking, the remarkable confluence of events in King and Snohomish counties that extended over three decades and resulted in the North Creek Valley being not the site of a shopping center, but rather of a nationally recognized 58 acre wetland restoration abutting salmon-bearing North Creek and serving a core teaching function at the adjacent hillside campus of the University of Washington Bothell and Cascadia Community College.  The North Creek events tell a remarkable story in land use planning and execution, intricate and illuminating, a story that would make a wonderful dissertation on land use.

Ann’s commitment to good stewardship has been remarkably broad, intelligent, and sustained, and utterly unselfish as she has given lavishly of herself to people and causes beyond counting.

Join CELP in honoring Ann at Celebrate Water on June 25!

The CELP Washington Water Leadership Award

Senator Karen Fraser

Senator Karen Fraser. Photo from her website:

CELP’s Washington Water Leadership Award honors individuals and organizations who publicly advocate for sustainable water resource stewardship in Washington and the Pacific Northwest.

This year we will be giving the inaugural Washington Water Leadership Award to Senator Karen Fraser. Senator Fraser represents Washington State’s 22nd Legislative District, the State Capitol area, and currently chairs the Senate Democratic Caucus.  She has long been a champion of responsible water policy, and has been a vigorous advocate throughout her elective office career.  She has spoken out in the State Legislature, in county and city government, in regional and national organizations, and at international forums. She also serves as Adjunct Faculty in the Master of Public Administration Program at The Evergreen State College where she includes an introduction to the intergovernmental complexities of water policy in her classes.

We will honor Senator Fraser with the award at Celebrate Water on June 25, 2014. We hope to see you there!

CLE: Fish, Water, and Health: Water Quality Standards in Washington

Continuing Legal Education (1.0 Credits)

Professor Catherine O’Neill Seattle University School of Law

June 25, 2014 from 4:00-5:00pm at Ivar’s Salmon House

Click here for registration information.

This event takes place in conjunction with CELP’s Annual Event, Celebrate Water. You can attend just the CLE or BOTH! 

Fish, Water, and Health: Water Quality Standards in Washington

Eating fish is the primary way that humans are exposed to PCBs, mercury, and many other toxic pollutants. We know these chemicals cause cancer, permanent neurological damage, and other harms. Yet fish, if they aren’t contaminated, are an excellent source of protein, omega fatty acids, and other nutrients. Doctors would like to see people eat more, not less, of this healthful food. So the question becomes: how much fish can we safely consume? Everyone knows that Washington’s current fish consumption standard is unreasonably low, but the state has been reluctant to adopt a more protective standard, like that of Oregon, because a more protective standard will require more stringent pollution and clean-up standards for Washington’s waterways—standards that industry asserts are unachievable.

Professor Catherine O’Neill of Seattle University School of Law will provide new insights into the legal and scientific complexities underpinning this hot button policy issue. Professor O’Neill has written extensively on the legal issues underpinning this important policy decision that implicates civil rights, environmental justice, human health and natural resource protection, including: Fishable Waters (American Indian Law Journal, 2013); No Mud Pies: Risk Avoidance as Risk Regulation (Vermont Law Review, 2007); Mercury, Risk, and Justice (Environmental Law Reporter, 2004); and Variable Justice: Environmental Standards, Contaminated Fish, and “Acceptable” Risk to Native Peoples (Stanford Environmental Law Journal, 2000).

Read Professor O’Neill’s recent OpEd with Frank James on fish consumption in The Seattle Times here.


Biography of Catherine O’Neill

Professor O’Neill was a Ford Foundation Graduate Fellow at Harvard Law School. She came to the Northwest in 1992 as an environmental planner and air toxics coordinator for the Washington State Department of Ecology. From 1994 to1997, she was a Lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law. From 1997 to 2001, Professor O’Neill was Assistant, then Associate Professor at the University of Arizona College of Law. She is a Professor at Seattle University School of Law and is a Faculty Fellow with the Law School’s Center for Indian Law & Policy.

Professor O’Neill’s research focuses on issues of justice in environmental law and policy; in particular, her work considers the effects of contamination and depletion of fish and other resources relied upon by tribes and their members, communities of color and low-income communities. She has worked with the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council on its Fish Consumption Report; with various tribes in the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes on issues of contaminated fish and waters; and with environmental justice groups in the Southwest on air and water pollution issues. Professor O’Neill has testified before Congress on regulations governing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. She has also served as a pro bono consultant to the attorneys for the National Congress of American Indians and other tribes in litigation challenging these mercury regulations. Professor O’Neill is a Member Scholar with the Center for Progressive Reform.

Ethics and the Columbia River Treaty

Righting Historic Wrongs

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at Gonzaga University

Join us for a one day conference as we seek to modernize the Columbia River Treaty, restore health to the river and return salmon to ancestral spawning waters, and establish a water ethic as foundational for resolving international water conflicts.  You can view the conference program here.

RSVP by May   Please share with others interested in ethics, rivers, stewardship and justice.  

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