The Rogue River in southwestern Oregon.

The Rogue River in southwestern Oregon.

Bureau of Land Management/Flickr

A federal magistrate judge has sided with environmental groups over stream conditions for threatened fish in Oregon. The dispute involves more than a dozen watersheds, including the Willamette, Rogue and middle Columbia rivers.  

Judge John Acosta found that federal and state officials are allowing high stream temperatures to persist in violation of the Clean Water Act.

“The court finds the [Environmental Protection Agency] acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and violated the [Clean Water Act]” in setting water temperature standards connected to rules the court had previously rejected, Acosta wrote.

Acosta also found the governments failed to follow proper consulting procedures under the Endangered Species Act.

Nina Bell directs Northwest Environmental Advocates and is leading the legal challenge.

“Oregon had used this rule to change the temperature standards from temperatures that would normally protect salmon, steelhead and bull trout to temperatures that were up to the equivalent of 90 degrees Fahrenheit – a temperature that’s lethal to cold-water fish within minutes,” Bell said.

Acosta issued recommendations, however, not a ruling.

It’ll be up to a federal district judge to rule. If the district judge goes along with the magistrate’s recommendations, government agencies and environmental groups will be “directed to discuss appropriate remedies.” 

Bell’s group has been down this road before. Northwest Environmental Advocates won a similar court victory over state officials regarding runoff from coastal forests and farmland into streams. Oregon has drawn criticism from environmental groups for its response to those court losses.