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In a historic decision, a federal court has ordered the removal of a segment of Washington’s Electron Dam from the Puyallup River, marking a win for environmental preservation and the protection of endangered species. The ruling signifies a crucial step toward restoring natural water flow along the river for the first time in nearly a century. 

The legal battle was initiated by the Puyallup Tribe against Electron Hydro LLC following the company’s discharge of toxic tire crumb rubber into the river and subsequent construction of a “temporary” rock dam and sheet pile wall in 2020. 

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The court’s verdict deemed these structures pose an imminent threat to the survival of steelhead trout, Chinook salmon, and bull trout, species all listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. 

The Puyallup Tribe, deeply intertwined with the river’s ecosystem and dependent on its health for cultural and subsistence practices, played a central role in the litigation. The Tribe’s suit against Electron Hydro LLC highlighted the detrimental impact of the dam on fish populations and their historic migration patterns, critical for spawning and sustaining the river’s ecosystem. 

Expressing satisfaction with the court’s decision, in a statement emailed to Native New Online,  the Puyallup Tribal Council emphasized the Tribe’s longstanding commitment to safeguarding the river’s ecological integrity, 

“For years, Electron Hydro has followed its devastating act of polluting the water with turf with further harm to fish by preventing their upstream migration,” the Council stated in a press release. “We are grateful the court agreed with our repeated calls for its removal because the dam violated the Endangered Species Act. The Tribe will work closely with agencies to be sure this happens as soon as possible. It is a good day for salmon, even if it took years to get to this result.”

The Puyallup River holds profound cultural and ecological significance for the Tribe, serving as a vital habitat for Chinook salmon, a species essential to both tribal and non-tribal fishers, and as a primary food source for endangered Southern Resident orcas. 

Additionally, the river supports populations of steelhead and bull trout, both protected under the Endangered Species Act. The century-old dam, long recognized as a barrier to salmon migration, has consistently violated federal conservation laws. 

“This is a monumental decision that will allow fish unimpeded access to pristine habitat above the dam for the first time in more than 100 years,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, senior attorney with Earthjustice’s Biodiversity Defense Program in a press release. “The Endangered Species Act ensures that companies like Electron cannot blatantly harm or kill threatened and endangered species. We are thankful that the Court recognized these impacts and chose to at long last free the Puyallup River and the species that call it home.” 

The legal battle against Electron Hydro LLC has been fraught with challenges, including the company’s persistence in constructing the dam despite orders to halt operations. Following a disastrous discharge of the artificial turf into the river, Electron proceeded with the construction of the dam without obtaining full permits. Despite regulatory injunctions, the harmful structures remained in place for nearly four years, exacerbating the plight of protected fish species in the river. 

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About The Author
Kaili Berg
Author: Kaili BergEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Reporter
Kaili Berg (Aleut) is a member of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Nation, and a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. She is a staff reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Berg, who is based in Wisconsin, previously reported for the Ho-Chunk Nation newspaper, Hocak Worak. She went to school originally for nursing, but changed her major after finding her passion in communications at Western Technical College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.