Puyallup Tribe suing Electron Dam citing fish kills

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is suing the owners and operators of the Electron Dam, alleging ongoing violations of the Endangered Species Act.

Spring chinook, bull trout and steelhead in the Puyallup River are protected under the act, but the more than 100-year-old Electron Dam has for years been a known fish killer on the river, the tribe said in its suit filed Wednesday.

In July 2020, operators of the dam "stranded, suffocated and pulverized thousands of adults and juvenile fish," according to a statement from the tribe Wednesday.

The fish kill happened the same month that the dam’s owners placed artificial turf in the river without a permit as part of a construction project. Pieces of the turf and its rubber crumbs washed down the river below the dam and into Commencement Bay. Pieces of turf remain in the river, and rubber crumbs and plastic grass fragments are "clearly visible on the shorelines and vegetation" of the Puyallup, the tribal council said in a statement.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District against Electron Hydro, LLC, Thom A. Fischer, and Tollhouse Energy Company, the owners and operators of the dam.

"It is time for the dam to go," the Puyallup Tribal Council stated in a news release about the suit Wednesday. "Its legacy will be one of dead fish and damage to the ecology of this beautiful place we all live in."

Historically the river was home to as many as 42,000 chinook salmon, but today the number of chinook, including early spring returns to the White River, a tributary of the Puyallup, is estimated at only 1,300 fish.

Spring chinook are prize food for southern resident killer whales, which are also endangered. Lack of adequate chinook salmon is one of the main threats to their survival.

Owners of the dam could not immediately be reached for comment about the suit.