Tribe Sues Seattle Over Salmon Depletion

An alleged abuse of local salmons’ right to exist and flourish has the city of Seattle defending its hydroelectric energy supply in state and tribal courts.

The Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe in a Saugk-Suiattle Tribal Court filing named Seattle as the sole defendant. The tribe says that the city’s three hydroelectric dams are killing off local salmon and negatively affecting the tribe’s cultural practices and traditions.

The tribe also says it filed the tribal lawsuit on behalf of the salmon. That makes salmon co-plaintiffs in the filing, which, refers to the salmon as Tsuladx in the tribe’s native language.

The tribe in its recently filed tribal court lawsuit says the salmon have natural rights to live and thrive, which the city of Seattle is violating. So the tribe filed the lawsuit on behalf of itself and the salmon.

Seattle owns three hydroelectric dams on the river. The tribe says that the dams were not constructed in a manner that enables the salmon to bypass the dams and continue their annual spawning migrations.

The Sauk-Suiattle tribe says the three dams do not allow passage of the salmon during annual spawning runs. And that is killing off the local fishery in the Skagit River.

The dams cited are the Diablo, Gorge, and Ross dams that comprise the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project in the northwest region of Washington State. The dams are located about 100 miles from Seattle and account for about 20 percent of the city’s electrical power.

The public utility Seattle City Light operates the three dams that are located along an eight-mile section of the Skagit River. The dams are situated within the Cascade Mountains and affect more than a third of the Skagit River watershed.

Salmon, trout, and steelhead live and spawn in those waters. The tribe says their numbers are much lower due to the dams and are negatively affecting tribal culture and practices. It also is violating the salmon’s natural right to live and thrive.

The tribal court lawsuit is in addition to one recently filed in King County Superior Court. Seattle has filed a counter lawsuit that seeks dismissal of the state and tribal suits. A federal court last year dismissed a similar lawsuit filed by the tribe against the city.