PORTLAND, Ore. – A federal judge on Friday refused to order a cut in flows from the Grand Coulee Dam that threaten millions of fish raised in pens downstream in the Columbia River.
U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland rejected the bid of a major regional seafood company to link the protection of the farmed fish to that of wild fish considered in jeopardy under the Endangered Species Act.
He said the company hadn't shown that the management of the dam in Washington state to prevent flooding in cities downstream had put any wild fish at risk. The Endangered Species Act doesn't cover farmed fish.
"I am sympathetic to their loss of unlisted fish," said Redden, who ruled briefly after a hearing arranged on short notice. He has presided over years of litigation about species of wild salmon and steelhead listed as protected under the federal law.
The heavy flows through dam spillways churn the water, capturing dangerous levels of nitrogen from the air. The gas bubbles give fish the equivalent of the bends.
The fish farm is part of Pacific Seafood, which said the losses already number in the hundreds of thousands of farmed steelhead with 2.7 million more are at risk. Its lawyers and leaders said Friday they didn't know whether they would appeal to a higher court.
Federal dam managers have drawn down the reservoir behind the Grand Coulee Dam to make way for what's expected to be an unusual amount of runoff in coming weeks from snow still atop the Rocky Mountains.
The dam is critical to flood protection in Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., where the Columbia has been hovering at flood stage.
The lawsuit is another indication of the stress on the Northwest's natural and economic resources resulting from a wet winter and a late spring.
River flows are already so high that the region's dams are running at capacity and providing all the electricity the region's grid can handle. Other electricity production has been curtailed — to the dismay of wind farm operators whose finances depend on tax credits and other benefits that are pegged to their output.