Army Corps requests reconsultation over Willamette Valley Project

A wild spring Chinook salmon in the McKenzie River, a key tributary of the Upper Willamette River Basin. Photo attribution: U.S. Forest Service

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) sent a formal letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in April requesting that the two agencies engage in reconsultation under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) over the management of the Willamette Valley Project and its impacts to threatened salmon and steelhead. The Corps’ request would evaluate the impacts and actions necessary to ensure that its management operations of thirteen high-head dams throughout the basin do not harm or impede the recovery of wild Upper Willamette River spring Chinook salmon and winter steelhead.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NFMS), a branch of NOAA, oversees the protection and recovery of salmon and steelhead under the ESA. In 2008, NMFS issued a Biological Opinion and associated Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives. These documents, along with several other regulations and statutes, govern the Corps’ management of the Willamette Valley Project dams. However, in the decade since the Biological Opinion was issued, the Corps has failed to implement many of the required actions while spring Chinook and winter steelhead populations have continued their precipitous decline throughout the basin.

The lack of progress implementing the agreed-upon mandates along with newly available information led Native Fish Society, in conjunction with our partners at WildEarth Guardians and Northwest Environmental Defense Center, to file a lawsuit against the Corps in March.

The request for relief in our lawsuit includes reconsultation over the Willamette Valley Project and the ongoing harm to wild, native fish in the Upper Willamette River basin. NFS and our partners are pleased to see the Corps’ request for reconsulatation occur in such a timely manner. We expect the process to encompass the entire scope of the Willamette Project and include enforceable timelines for completion. At the same time, it is imperative that the Corps engage in interim measures to address volitional fish passage, improve water quality, and adjust flow regimes.

NFS continues to work with our partners and representing attorneys at Advocates for the West to ensure that all claims within our lawsuit are resolved.

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