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Federal court: Puyallup River dam needs permits under Endangered Species Act before it can restart

AstroTurf seen in the Puyallup River during work done in late July 2020 by Electron Hydro.
Courtesy of the Puyallup Tribe
AstroTurf seen in the Puyallup River during work done in late July 2020 by Electron Hydro.

In another blow to the operators of the Electron Dam on the Puyallup River, a judge in federal District Court has barred its parent company from diverting any water to generate power until it gets permits under the Endangered Species Act.  

Electron Hydro shut down the dam last summer after a whistleblower caught operators illegally using artificial turf to line a bypass channel in the riverbed. Despite cleanup efforts by the company, that turf and crumb rubber from it have been discovered as far as 21 miles downstream of the dam.

In response to a motion from the Puyallup Tribe, the court issued a preliminary injunction on Monday. The tribe argued that restarting the dam would put three endangered species at risk: Chinook salmon, steelhead trout and bull trout. It would do so both by injuring fish that get caught in the unscreened flume of dam’s power station as well as by de-watering nearly all the redds in the bypass reach near the powerhouse, where endangered steelhead plant their eggs.

Judge John C. Coughenour ruled that the tribe presented more than enough evidence to show that operating the dam would cause illegal "take," or killing, under the Endangered Species Act. He also found this would cause "irreparable injury."

The Puyallup Tribal Council called the ruling "a major win."

“We are grateful the court agreed that the evidence was clear. The dam kills fish, and opening that intake would kill more fish,” reads a statement.

“It's definitely a step in the right direction,” said the tribe’s environmental attorney, Lisa Anderson, who said it’s doubtful the dam operators can get their permits under the ESA before the tribe’s case against the company goes to trial.

“It is very exciting because we feel like we’re going to prevent a lot of future harm,” she said.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in April 2022.

The spokesman for Electron Hydro, Chris Spens, did not respond to requests for comment. 

Not quite two weeks ago, the state fined Electron Hydro a half-a-million dollars and ordered the dam to comply with new requirements for water quality monitoring.  

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