Oil & Salmon Don't Mix

Blog post by Lauren Goldberg, Riverkeeper’s Staff Attorney—

“Another oil spill at Bonneville Dam, are you serious?” I overheard our Executive Director, Brett, on the phone last week. I could hear the frustration in in his voice. It was just over a year ago that Riverkeeper got a similar call from the Corps reporting a spill of 1,500 gallons of PCB-laden transformer oil at the Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River. That oil contained PCBs 14,000,000% greater than state and federal chronic water quality standards. According to the Corps, the spill last week was not large. But in the year since the toxic oil spill at Ice Harbor, we continue to see oil spills from dams but the Corps has not announced any plans to address these spills at the Columbia and Snake River dams. We think this is a serious problem.

Here is what we know: Oil spills are a chronic problem at government-owned Columbia River dams, and they threaten clean water for everyone who relies on the Columbia—from tribal fisherman to kiteboarders to anglers. How is this possible? Aging Columbia River dams use massive quantities of oil to keep their turbines churning out energy for the power grid. According to public records obtained recently by Riverkeeper, the dams are regularly leaking dirty oil into the Columbia. Last week’s spill at Bonneville Dam joins a laundry list of other reported spills at dams up and down the Columbia and Snake rivers.

In the eyes of the law, government-owned Columbia River dams are no different than other factories that are required to monitor and reduce pollution. But the Corps is not facing any consequence when it spills oil pollution into the Columbia. We think that everyone—including the Corps—must do their part to keep the Columbia River safe for swimming and fishing.

Donate to Riverkeeper today to support our work to uncover the truth about oil pollution from Columbia Basin dams—and work toward a solution.