Judge dismisses water quality case against PGE

Greg McMillan
Pelton Round Butte dam

A U.S. District Court judge has thrown out a case against Portland General Electric (PGE) that alleges the utility is violating water quality standards at a large hydroelectric project in central Oregon.

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The Deschutes River Alliance, a nonprofit made up of environmentalists and small business owners, brought the lawsuit against PGE and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, co-owners of the Pelton Round Butte hydroelectric dam, in 2016.


They alleged the utility’s water management practices at the dam have resulted in poor conditions on the Deschutes River, damaging fish stocks and insect life. Small business owners in the rural town of Maupin, located 50 miles downstream from the dam, say they have been hurt particularly hard by the drop off in anglers coming to the town because of poor fishing conditions.

PGE violated standards for water temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen when it releases water from the dam, according to the lawsuit.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon concluded the Deschutes River Alliance’s reading of PGE’s water quality certificates is “too strict.” The plaintiff does not take account of requirements on the operator to use techniques to “work toward compliance” and that exceedances of water quality criteria alone do not constitute a violation of the certificates.

“We believe strongly that PGE and the Tribes, as co-owners of the project, are fully in compliance with our license and water quality certificates on the Deschutes,” says PGE in a statement on its website after the decision was released late last week.

Jonah Sandford, executive director of the Deschutes River Alliance, said the judge’s ruling is not the end of the organization’s fight.

Our goal remains to secure compliance with water quality standards at the Pelton Round Butte complex and throughout the lower Deschutes River–a goal we believe is more important now than ever, as current management practices at Pelton Round Butte are harming the fish, wildlife, insects, and people who call the river home.”

We will continue to work aggressively to find new ways to get there — both in the context of this case and otherwise,” said Sandford. He declined to elaborate on the alliance’s next steps.


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