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Magistrate Recommends NWEA Wins Suit Over Oregon Water Temperature Standards

October 14, 2016

Earthrise, along with co-counsel, Bryan Telegin, received a ruling from a federal magistrate judge this week recommending that our client, Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA), should win its suit challenging Oregon’s plans to clean up temperature and mercury pollution in Oregon’s rivers. The case followed on a 2012 court case Earthrise won that invalidated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approval of an Oregon rule that allowed the state to change water quality standards from cool temperatures to hot—and even lethal—levels without federal agency review.

The Clean Water Act requires the state to establish clean-up plans, called Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), for pollution in many rivers in Oregon. Each TMDL contains limits for contributions of pollution via discharge permits and polluted runoff from land activities such as logging and farming. The court found that every temperature TMDL issued since 2006 had changed Oregon’s water quality standards without the required federal review.

“When we started this case, the court had already established that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality was using an illegal rule to set the goalpost for the temperature of Oregon’s water,” said Nina Bell, NWEA Executive Director. “This was a rule that had allowed Oregon DEQ to change those temperatures to levels that are lethal to salmon within minutes. This most recent case is about the legality of all the times that DEQ actually did change those temperatures and EPA gave its approval.”

The court also recommended that EPA and Oregon be given two years to fix a TMDL for mercury in the Willamette basin and to develop a new temperature TMDL for the Klamath basin, both of which the agencies had sought to withdraw voluntarily.

The magistrate’s findings and recommendation will be referred to a district court judge who will issue a final ruling in the near future. 

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