Victory for Icicle Creek Salmon and Steelhead
This holiday season, Icicle Creek's endangered Chinook salmon and threatened steelhead received an early gift from a Federal District Court. That gift came in the form of a precedent setting ruling in response to a lawsuit the Wild Fish Conservancy filed, and it requires the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to account for the long-term impacts of climate change on water flows in Icicle Creek. We are very pleased with the thoughtful decision issued by Judge Mendoza that recognizes the importance of the issues.
The issue involves the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, which consistently pulls substantial quantities of water out of Icicle Creek at two diversion points. These diversions often significantly dewater a segment of Icicle Creek utilized by imperiled salmonids protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The hatchery is seeking legal authority to continue these diversions and the resultant harm to ESA-listed fish. However, as we are argued and as the court recognized, the hatchery's proposal to continue diverting significant amounts of water will have increasingly harmful impacts on wild fish recovery as climate change alters flows to dangerously low levels.
There is a mountain of scientific evidence indicating how climate change will dramatically impact stream flows across the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, we are already seeing these claims come to life with our rivers experiencing a boom and bust of flows - heavy rains routinely flood rivers and severe draughts drain them during increasingly dry summers. Under these drier conditions, siphoning off flows will further endanger these already threatened fish populations.
While NMFS acknowledged that climate change will alter flows, the court ruled that NMFS was being arbitrary and capricious by not actually factoring these changes into its analysis of the hatchery's impacts for water diversions. In doing so, the court recognized a simple truth - fish need water, and climate change will make availability of that water inconsistent. Therefore, the court ruled that NMFS needs to account for these changes when making decisions that impact struggling wild fish populations.
We applaud the court for reaching this decision and look forward to working with NMFS to ensure their court-ordered, revised biological opinion will appropriately account for climate change. And we would like to thank our countless members who generously provide the funding and support that enable us to pursue important legal cases such as this one.
Wild Fish Conservancy is represented in this matter by Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC of Portland, OR and Seattle, WA.