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Puyallup Tribe sues Electron Hydro for polluting Puyallup River with crumb rubber

The Tribe claims the company repeatedly violated the Endangered Species Act, which protects Chinook salmon and other species that call the Puyallup River home.

The Puyallup Tribe has filed a lawsuit against Electron Hydro, the owners of the Electron Dam on the Puyallup River, for endangering salmon by improperly using artificial turf and releasing yards of the material and crumb rubber into the Puyallup River.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday against Electron Hydro LLC, and the collection of corporations that own, finance, and control the hydropower company. 

The lawsuit claims the company repeatedly violated the Endangered Species Act, which protects Chinook salmon and other species that call the Puyallup River home, by stranding, suffocating and pulverizing thousands of adults and juvenile fish during a planned outage of the Electron facility in July 2020. The suit claims this outage was part of regular maintenance and operations of the facility, and is "in addition to the thousands of fish killed in the flume, forebay, and turbines of the facility every year." 

In the same month as that outage, the crumb rubber release happened after crews working on the Electron Dam on the Puyallup River used artificial turf as a padding material under plastic sheeting in the channel to divert the river away from their work area. 

But high flows ripped the sheeting, sending several hundred yards of the turf downriver, along with an estimated 4-6 cubic yards of crumb rubber, according to a consultant’s report prepared and released earlier this year for the Tollhouse Energy Company, of Bellingham.

Five months later, there are still large pieces of turf in the river and crumb rubber pieces and fragments of plastic grass are visible on the shorelines and vegetation, according to a press release from The Puyallup Tribe. 

"This dam has been killing fish for decades. The reckless killing of fish in the forebay this summer in spite of our efforts to warn and guide them to reduce the fish kill and then polluting this sacred river with crumb rubber was the last straw," said the Puyallup Tribal Council, the Tribe’s governing body, in a prepared statement Wednesday. "The owners have to be held accountable. They are killing fish and destroying natural resources that are here for everyone’s benefit, Native and non-Native alike. Our job is to protect the land, the water and the fish. That is what we are doing today by suing Electron Dam’s owners for their egregious conduct."

In November, the U.S. Department of Justice also filed a civil lawsuit against Electron Hydro claiming it violated the Clean Water Act when it released the artificial turf and crumb rubber into the Puyallup River.

Pierce County has called for the removal of the 116-year-old dam that sits upstream of Orting, outside Mt. Rainier National Park.

The Tollhouse Energy Company, one of the companies that controls Electron Hydro, issued a statement to KING 5 regarding the lawsuit that said: 

"Electron Hydro, LLC is currently undergoing a massive multi-million dollar investment with upgrades using local merchants and labor to modernize the facility, provide full fish passage and prevent fish entrainment in the project. The completed project will comply with all Federal Endangered Species Act requirements for fish protection and will contribute substantially to salmon recovery efforts. Electron Hydro has already built a premium Chinook acclimation facility below the diversion from which 320,000 Chinook smolt were released last May into the Puyallup River by the Puyallup Tribe. Looking forward, Washington State, by way of Senate Bill 5116, has set the course for demanding carbon free energy generation within the near future to help offset the adverse effects of climate change. Electron Hydro, blessed with the snow and ice fields of Mt. Rainier, will be an essential renewable resource community partner in this endeavor. Given the increasing electrical demand, and growth in electric vehicles imminent, clean hydro in western Washington will become more important than ever."