Win for native fish and clean water

Fish swimming on the bottom of the river

Victory! Lawsuit holds two hatcheries accountable for discharging harmful pollution to fish into McKenzie River. Photo © slowmotiongli via Canva.com

Lawsuit holds two hatcheries accountable for discharging harmful pollution to fish into McKenzie River

Victory! On behalf of a coalition of fish & conservation clients and alongside co-counsel the Law Office of Karl G. Anuta, P.C., we successfully challenged water quality permits for two hatcheries on Oregon’s McKenzie River.

Fish need cold water to survive. Yet, the Leaburg and McKenzie River fish hatcheries have been polluting the McKenzie River – by discharging water that’s too warm back into the river. After years of mounting public pressure from local community members and our clients, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) pulled the hatcheries’ permits and re-issued permits in compliance with the Clean Water Act, that have stronger protections for native fish and the cold water they need to survive.

People kayaking in the McKenzie River with trees in the background

The McKenzie River basin provides clean drinking water for over 200,000 Oregonians, and spawning and rearing grounds for native fish and other important aquatic species. Photo by Rick Obst. CC BY 2.0.

“This is a big win. The agencies charged with protecting water quality and stewarding our wildlife should not be in the business of degrading fish habitat. Thanks to our clients, the McKenzie River will be cooler during the hottest months of the year and will be safer for aquatic species. I’m proud of our work to fight for clean water, native fish, and strong ecosystems!

– Mike Sargetakis, Crag Staff Attorney

Background

The McKenzie River is home to several important native species, including threatened bull trout and Spring Chinook salmon, who rely on the river’s cold, clean water.  Yet the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has been operating the Leaburg and McKenzie hatcheries for years while discharging water to the McKenzie that is too warm for fish, and in violation of their Clean Water Act permits. Despite knowing this, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued discharge permits that were no different than those previously issued (and violated) by the same hatcheries – effectively letting these facilities continue business as usual for years into the future.

Last year, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of our clients to challenge those new permits. After we won the motion to dismiss, DEQ proposed to withdraw the unlawful permits and has issued new permits that forbid the hatcheries from discharging any heat to this sensitive aquatic ecosystem. These permits also prohibit any discharges into the McKenzie River during the warmest months of the year, when ODFW has historically been unable to comply with its permits. 

A rainbow trout on the bottom of a river

The McKenzie River is home to several important native species, including threatened bull trout, Spring Chinook salmon, and rainbow trout (pictured) who rely on the river’s cold, clean water. Photo by Roger Tabor, USFWS. Link to license

A river runs between trees

The wild and scenic McKenzie River is renowned for its rafting, fishing, and waterfall hikes.  But like many big rivers, the McKenzie is heating up, and that’s bad for the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic and threatened fish species. Photo by Jeff Hollett.

Clients

We are proud to represent our clients in this case:

  • The Conservation Angler is an advocacy and watchdog organization that fights for the protection of wild Pacific anadromous fish populations throughout the Northwest, all the way to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.  
  • The Northwest Environmental Defense Center is a nonprofit working to protect the environment and natural resources of the Pacific Northwest.
  • Willamette Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the Willamette River and believe that a river with good water quality and abundant natural habitat, safe for fishing and swimming is a basic public right.

Resources

To see our original post about this case, read here: “Early Victory in McKenzie River Hatcheries Case”

To read posts from our clients, check out these articles:

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