The South Yuba River Citizens League has issued a notice of intent to file suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failure to comply with new Endangered Species Act requirements for protecting three species of endangered Yuba River fish: spring-run Chinook salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon.
In 2006, SYRCL and Friends of the River sued the federal government to demand better protection for the Yuba’s endangered fish, according to a Wednesday SYRCL news release.
That effort bore fruit when, in February 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a formal decision, called the Biological Opinion, finding that two Army Corps of Engineers dams — Englebright and Daguerre Point — on the Yuba River are jeopardizing the survival and recovery of these three anadromous fish species.
The Biological Opinion required the Army Corps to take specific actions to reduce harm and threat of extinction to the fish.
According to the news release, the Army Corps has repeatedly stated it does not intend to comply with these new requirements. Last week the Yuba County Water Agency filed a 60-day notice of its intent to file a lawsuit against NMFS and the Army Corps over the Biological Opinion.
Both YCWA and the Army Corps disagree with the Biological Opinion and have challenged it on legal and technical grounds.
“We are deeply disappointed with the Army Corps’ inaction and YCWA’s determination to roll back the Biological Opinion,” said SYRCL Executive Director Caleb Dardick. “These two factors combine to threaten the survival of these endangered fish.”
SYRCL issued a notice of intent to file suit in order to be able to return to federal court in 60 days should attempts fail to persuade the Army Corps to drop its opposition to the Biological Opinion’s requirements and begin implementing them instead. Along with the notice letter, SYRCL has requested a meeting with the major stakeholders to explore collaborative solutions.
“Although the Army Corps claims that the Biological Opinion requires actions that are outside of their authority, NMFS took care to enumerate the many laws and regulations that give the Corps the necessary authority,” said Christopher Sproul at Environmental Advocates, lead counsel for SYRCL.
“SYRCL’s letter of notice is not a lawsuit, and in fact, SYRCL is interested in a collaborative resolution that will bring the Corps into compliance with the Endangered Species Act and put Yuba fish species on a path to survival and recovery.”
NMFS said the Yuba River provides one of the best opportunities in the state for restoring salmon and steelhead. The Biological Opinion imposes detailed requirements for securing fish passage past Daguerre and Englebright Dams.
For example, the Army Corps must commence implementing some form of upstream fish passage past Englebright by March 2014 and must secure long-term fish passage past Englebright by January 2020.
They must also secure long-term improved fish passage past Daguerre within five years.
The Biological Opinion imposes several other important fish protective measures as well.
“We are deeply disappointed with the Army Corps’ inaction and YCWA’s determination to roll back the Biological Opinion.”
— SYRCL’s Executive Director Caleb DardicK