Case Study: Nation’s Best Toxic Pollution Limits

Columbia Riverkeeper works with people in dozens of communities—from rural to urban—who share the same goals: Protect the health of their families and the places they love. 

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Case Study: Nation’s best toxic pollution limits

Fishing near Bonneville Dam.

Riverkeeper worked closely with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (Umatilla), the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), and nonprofit Northwest Environmental Advocates to push Oregon to adopt the nation’s most protective limits on toxic water pollution in 2011. Under the Clean Water Act, states set water pollution limits based, in part, on how much fish people eat. If the state assumes people rarely eat fish, the state can allow more toxic pollution. Estimating how much fish people eat matters. Oregon assumed people ate only a cracker-sized amount of fish per day. This vastly underestimated the amount of fish that many Oregonians ate and failed to protect those people from toxic pollution. In the end, Oregon revised its “fish consumption rate” to one-third of a pound per day—a huge improvement, new limits on toxic pollution discharges.

What worked?

We listened. We recognized Umatilla and CRITFC's long-term leadership and expertise on fish consumption. After we were confident we could add value, Riverkeeper’s attorneys coordinated closely with Umatilla and CRITFC’s policy staff to advocate for less toxic pollution. Together, we fought against industry loopholes. We partnered with tribes’ media teams to attend editorial board meetings together, draft op-eds and coordinate messaging. Because the tribes did not want the new regulations to focus entirely on Native American fishers, Riverkeeper highlighted the impacts to non-tribal fishers, including recreational fishers, immigrants, and low-income people. We organized our members to submit comments and attend hearings to advocate for less pollution. Overall, we added value to the relationship by providing legal and organizing support, while respecting Umatilla and CRITFC’s strong leadership.