Federal Judge Rules EPA Must Confront Warm Water In Columbia River Basin

Oct 26, 2018

The Snake River, habitat for many different species of cold water fish affected by warm water temperatures.
Credit Chad H / Flickr Creative Commons

A Federal Judge in Seattle ruled that the EPA has to finalize a long-shelved plan to cool down water temperatures in the Columbia River Basin.

Almost 20 years ago, the EPA signed an agreement with Washington, Oregon and Idaho to address issues in the Columbia and Snake rivers that were negatively affecting fish.

According to environmental groups, one of the biggest issues are dams. They create slack water that traps heat, allowing temperatures to rise. Kevin Lewis is the executive director of Idaho Rivers United, one of the groups that sued the EPA. He explains why warmer water is such a problem for certain fish:


"If you have cold water fish, they just cannot survive in warm temperatures. If you have a bunch of bass, they do just fine in pretty much anything. But you have trout, salmon, steelhead, you have cold water fishes, they don't do well. You get above 68 degrees, you start to stress them. You get above 70 degrees, you start to kill them."


Due to the size of the Columbia River Basin, the EPA agreed to investigate the problem in the early 2000s, to figure out how to protect fish from warm water. After releasing a draft plan to cool down the Columbia River in 2003, the EPA failed to create any lasting standards.

But last week, Chief District Judge Ricardo Martinez ordered the EPA to finish their work. They now have 60 days to finalize a recommendation to lower water temperatures that are currently harming fish.


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