Fishing and environmental groups filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court of Appeals in San Francisco, US, to compel the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) to consult with one another to restore the spring run chinook salmon of Butte Creek.

Earthjustice filed legal action on behalf of the plaintiffs in an effort to prevent fish kills like those that occurred in 2002 and 2003. Butte Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento river that drains the northern Sierra Nevada northeast of Chico, plays host to the largest remaining run of spring chinook salmon in the Central Valley. The spring-run chinook was listed as ‘threatened’ under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1999.

The groups filed the lawsuit to force FERC to consult with the NOAA Fisheries regarding the impacts of the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) owned DeSabla-Centerville project on the protected fish. The groups also put PG&E on a 60-Day notice that any fish kills this summer caused by diverting the creek will prompt legal action for the killing of a listed species.

Over 7000 fish died before spawning in July and August of 2002 when low, warm water conditions on the creek below Centerville dam spurred an outbreak of disease among the salmon. During the spring, summer, and early fall months, adult spring-run chinook occupy approximately 16km of holding and spawning habitat in Butte Creek.

Fish habitat conditions in this section of the creek, including water flow and temperature, are controlled by operation of the DeSabla-Centerville hydroelectric project.