Oil spill the latest in a long line of spills from Army Corps dams

“Oil pollution from dams must stop. Shockingly, the Army Corps faces no penalties for fouling the Columbia with toxic oil pollution." -Lauren Goldberg, Legal and Program Director for Columbia Riverkeeper.


Army Corps Reports Columbia River Dam Operated by Federal Government May Have Spilled 192 Gallons of Oil


Oil spill the latest in a long line of spills from Army Corps dams

The Dalles Dam, photo credit EPA
The Dalles Dam, photo by EPA.

December 20, 2018 (The Dalles, OR)—The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) reported The Dalles Dam may have spilled 192 gallons of oil into the Columbia River. According to the Army Corps, the agency could not account for approximately 192 gallons of turbine oil and presumes the oil spilled into the Columbia from November 29 to December 18, 2018. Earlier this year the Corps reported 474 gallons of turbine oil at The Dalles Dam unaccounted for and presumed spilled to the Columbia River. The Army Corps reports oil spills to Columbia Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization, pursuant to a 2014 court settlement over uncontrolled oil spills from Columbia and Snake river dams.

“Oil pollution from dams must stop,” states Lauren Goldberg, Legal and Program Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “Shockingly, the Army Corps faces no penalties for fouling the Columbia with toxic oil pollution. People rely on clean water and healthy salmon runs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Governors Inslee and Brown must step up and protect the public and Tribal Nations’ rights to clean water in the Columbia Basin.”

According to the Army Corps, the federal agency identified a problem while recording oil levels under its Oil Accountability Program, a program required under Columbia Riverkeeper’s 2014 court settlement with the Corps. The Army Corps’ notice to Columbia Riverkeeper states:

“Oil Accountability measurements show a possible loss of 192.4-167.2 gallons plus or minus (reported 192.4 gallons) of turbine oil may. No oil residue or sheens have been identified by USACE in the Columbia River and no specific leak point has been determined on [Main Unit] MU12. The loss of oil was detected during oil accountability inspections.” According to the Army Corps, “MU12 was shut down and intake gates and stop logs were deployed to isolate the turbine unit from the Columbia River.”

In 2014, Columbia Riverkeeper settled a lawsuit against the Army Corps to stop oil pollution from eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, including Bonneville, John Day, The Dalles, and McNary, Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite. The settlement required the Army Corps to apply for water pollution permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The permits would require the Corps to monitor and reduce oil and other water pollution from the dams. EPA plans to issue the pollution permits in 2019.  

In the settlement, the Army Corps also agreed to study the use of non-toxic oils and implement an Oil Accountability Program to track oil spills.

“The Dalles Dam spill and many others demonstrate the Army Corps must switch to non-toxic oils and protect salmon and people that rely on clean water,” states Goldberg.

Oil spills occur on a routine basis at Columbia and Snake river dams, including a series of oil spills at Lower Monumental Dam in 2017 that spilled over 1,600 gallons of oil into the Snake River. In 2012 the Army Corps reported discharging over 1,500 gallons of PCB-laden transformer oil at the Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River. According to the EPA, PCBs cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. The oil from the Ice Harbor spill contained PCBs at levels 14,000,000% greater than state and federal chronic water quality standards.

About Columbia Riverkeeper

Columbia Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the water quality of the Columbia River and all life connected to it, from the headwaters to the Pacific Ocean. Representing over 16,000 members and supporters, Columbia Riverkeeper works to restore a Columbia River where people can safely eat the fish they catch and where children can swim without fear of toxic exposure. Columbia Riverkeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, the world’s fastest-growing environmental movement, uniting more than 300 Waterkeeper organizations worldwide. For more information, go to columbiariverkeeper.org.