Enforce the Law

Thousands of pipes release pollution into the Columbia.

The Problem

The Columbia River basin, an area the size of France, accumulates pollution from industry, wastewater treatment plants, and runoff from agricultural lands, logging, industrial sites, and city streets. As a result, the Columbia River is severely degraded by pollution. Toxic pollution threatens the health of people that eat local fish and jeopardizes the public’s right to eat fish caught locally. Rising water temperatures also threaten the health of salmon and other aquatic life that rely on cool water for survival. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the Columbia River Basin a Critical Large Aquatic Ecosystem because toxic contamination and other pollution is so severe. EPA’s in-depth report on toxic pollution in the Columbia, the Columbia River Basin: State of River Report for Toxics, concluded that harmful pollutants are moving up the food chain, impacting humans, fish, and wildlife.  

How We Engage

Columbia Riverkeeper cracks down on illegal pollution by enforcing the Clean Water Act. Our top priority: Stop the pollution. Our second goal: Deter industry from violating the law in the first place. How? Our settlements require the offending company to pay a penalty. As part of the lawsuit settlement, the penalty funds support projects by other organizations that benefit water quality. In the last decade, penalties from Riverkeeper’s Clean Water Act lawsuits supported dozens of important projects to protect and restore healthy rivers.

Riverkeeper also challenges government decisions that allow more toxic pollution in our rivers and watchdogs permits-to-pollute, making the case for state and federal agencies to ratchet back pollution limits or deny permits to pollute.

Success Stories

Columbia River near Vancouver, Washington showing water, mountain, and industry with a small kayaker in the background.

$25 Million

September 12, 2023

West Coast Port to spend over $25 million to reduce water pollution, pay penalty in legal settlement with Columbia Riverkeeper.

Chief Joseph Dam

Grand Coulee, Chief Joseph Dams to Reduce Pollution

May 23, 2023

After a decade of litigation by Columbia Riverkeeper, all ten federally-owned dams on the Columbia and Lower Snake river finally have Clean Water Act permits.

Senior Attorney, Miles Johnson, flying over McNary Dam. Aerial support from Lighthawk

EPA Issues Permits

December 15, 2022

Permits to curb oil and heat pollution from Columbia River dams.