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Puyallup Tribe plans to sue Pierce County dam owner over AstroTurf, impacts on fish

The Puyallup Tribeintends to sue Electron Hydro and its backers over violations of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. The tribe’s 60-day notice, filed in federal court, comes after a whistleblower working at the Pierce County dam site this summer revealed that the company was using artificial turf in the Puyallup River.

The company was working on upgrades meant to make the 116-year-old dam more efficient and fish friendly. But the unpermitted deployment of used AstroTurf in the riverbed at the site resulted in the release of large amounts of crumb rubber and other pollutants into the Puyallup River; it’s been spotted along with bits of green plastic as far downriver as Commencement Bay. These pollutants put the river’s dwindling population of endangered spring chinook at additional risk.

And the tribe is worried now about the company’s plans to extend work into October, beyond what is known as the "fish window" when activities would not interfere with the life-cycles of salmonids. Electron wants to build a rock dam in place of the bladder they were originally working on. The tribe says that would impose new impacts on this year’s runs of chinook, coho and steelhead. In the suit, the tribe asks the company to abandon those plans or face emergency court action.

Electron Hydro has declined to comment on the litigation, but says it wants to continue to operate the facility and complete repairs to bring the dam into environmental compliance.

The dam has capacity to power up to 20,000 homes.

Earlier this summer, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier vowed to work with the Puyallup Tribe to get the dam taken out.Puget Sound Energy — which sold the facility to the smaller company in 2014 — also threatened to sue and cancel its power sales agreement with the dam, if Electron Hydro can’t meet legal and environmental requirements.   

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to