Puyallup River free-flowing for first time in 100 years after court ruling against Electron Dam

A district court ruled Friday that a part of Washington's Electron Dam must be dismantled from the Puyallup River, allowing the river to flow freely for the first time in a century.

The Puyallup Tribe sued Electron Hydro LLC after the company's 2020 spill of crumb rubber into the river. This was soon followed by the construction of a rock dam and a sheet pile wall in 2020, deemed by the court as harmful to steelhead trout, Chinook salmon, and bull trout. These species are all listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

"The Tribe and its biologists have been expressing their concern since the rock dam was proposed in 2020 about the potential harm to the fish and hindrance to the salmon's successful upstream migration for spawning. Despite our repeated calls for its removal, the operators and regulators did not act," wrote the Puyallup Tribe after the ruling. "Electron Hydro's act of polluting the water was exacerbated by the construction of the rock dam, further endangering the fish. We are thankful that the court sided with us and agreed to remove the dam for violating the Endangered Species Act. The Tribe will work closely with agencies to ensure this happens promptly. It is a good day for salmon, even though it took years to get here."

The Puyallup River is not only a habitat for Chinook salmon, significant to both tribal and non-tribal fishers, but also a primary food source for endangered Southern Resident orcas and home to steelhead and bull trout—all three species of which are listed as either threatened or endangered.

The court determined the dam, which has been operating since 1904, has been a constant threat to the salmon and is not compliant with the Endangered Species Act.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Charges filed against Electron Hydro over river pollution

"This monumental decision will allow fish to access pristine habitat above the dam for the first time in over 100 years. The Endangered Species Act is designed to prevent companies like Electron from causing harm or death to threatened and endangered species," wrote Earthjustice attorney Elizabeth Forsyth. "We are grateful that the Court has recognized these impacts and decided to free the Puyallup River and the species that live there."

After the 2020 crumb rubber spill, Electron Hydro LLC built a rock dam and sheet pile wall, despite permitting agencies ordering them to stop. Prosecutors say Electron pushed regulators to allow even more fill and obstacles into the river, claiming it was a ‘temporary’ measure.

With the court's Friday ruling, fish will finally be able to move freely in the Puyallup River.

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Last year, the court ordered the operation of the intake and powerhouse to stop due to fish injuries and death occurring in the process. This injunction is still in place. Earthjustice is representing the Puyallup Tribe in the lawsuit against Electron Hydro LLC.