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Earthrise files suit against the City of Medford over its pollution of the Rogue River

May 16, 2018

On behalf of Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA), on May 16, 2018 Earthrise Law Center filed a lawsuit against the City of Medford, Oregon over its Clean Water Act violations that have caused harmful changes to the aquatic ecosystem in the Rogue River, a prized steelhead fishery in Southern Oregon.

In the lawsuit we allege that Medford has for many years caused or contributed to violations of Oregon’s “biocriterion,” a narrative water quality standard that requires all waters of the State to “be of sufficient quality to support aquatic species without detrimental changes in the resident biological communities.” A series of studies conducted in 2013-2014, and again in the fall of 2017, revealed myriad detrimental changes to the Rogue River downstream of Medford’s Regional Water Reclamation Facility, including increased prevalence of nuisance algae and loss of macroinvertebrate diversity and abundance. We also allege violations of Oregon’s narrative criteria for aesthetic impacts as well as the “duty to mitigate” provision of Medford’s national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit, and we are asking the court to enjoin the City from future Clean Water Act violations and to impose appropriate civil penalties, among other remedies.

The Upper Rogue River near and just downstream from Medford’s discharge is a renowned steelhead fishery. But salmon and steelhead have been in decline recently; Rogue River coho are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and various other species of salmon and steelhead are identified as species of concern by federal or state wildlife management agencies. Nutrient enrichment in the river, driven in large part by Medford’s discharges of excess nitrogen and phosphorous, has lead to a loss in the quality of habitat for these vulnerable species. Fortunately, there are widely available and cost effective treatment systems that can remove most nitrogen and phosphorus prior to discharge—much like the nearby City of Ashland, Oregon has already installed.

Earthrise attorneys Jamie Saul and Lia Comerford represent NWEA in this lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon under the Clean Water Act’s “citizen suit” provision.

Click here for a copy of our complaint, filed May 16, 2018.

Click here for a copy of our 60-day notice letter, dated October 26, 2017.

Click here for a copy of the Medford Regional Water Reclamation Facility Outfall Assessment Study, prepared in January 2013 by retired DEQ biologist and consultant Rick Hafele.

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