“Oil pollution from dams must stop. People rely on clean water and healthy salmon runs. It’s past time for the public utility districts to protect clean water in the Columbia Basin” -Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director for Columbia Riverkeeper.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Columbia Riverkeeper Provides Notice of Lawsuit Over Oil Pollution from Five Public Utility District-Dams on Columbia River
September 19, 2018 (Hood River, OR)—Columbia Riverkeeper sent notices of intent to sue three public utility districts (PUDs) that operate dams on the Columbia River in violation of the Clean Water Act. The dams at issue, Wells, Rocky Reach, Rock Island, Wanapum, and Priest Rapids, routinely spill oil and other pollution into the Columbia River without water pollution permits required under the Clean Water Act. Earlier this year, for example, the Chelan County PUD reported that the Rock Island Dam leaked between 25 and 450 gallons of oil in the Columbia River. The Rock Island oil spill is one of many described in the notices of intent to sue. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, oil can harm fish, birds, and other wildlife because the chemical constituents of oil are poisonous.
“Oil pollution from dams must stop,” states Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “People rely on clean water and healthy salmon runs. It’s past time for the public utility districts to protect clean water in the Columbia Basin.”
Without pollution permits, the PUDs fail to monitor and report pollution in a manner that enables the public to fully understand the extent and severity of the problem.
Today’s notices of intent to sue build on Columbia Riverkeeper’s 2014 legal victory against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). In 2012, Riverkeeper sued the Corps for failing to obtain pollution discharge permits for eight Columbia and Snake river dams (Bonneville, The Dalles, Ice Harbor, John Day, Little Goose, Lower Monumental, McNary, Lower Granite). The Corps agreed to settle the case in 2014. The settlement required the Corps to apply for pollution discharge permits and investigate using less harmful lubricants in dam equipment. Riverkeeper also settled a similar case against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) related to pollution from Grand Coulee Dam. Both the Corps and Bureau have completed studies and taken steps to replace conventional oils with less harmful oils.
Although the Corps and Bureau agreed to apply for pollution permits, the PUDs have not applied for or obtained any permits.
“Public utility districts have the same responsibility as other industrial polluters on the Columbia River. They don’t get a free pass to pollute,” explains VandenHeuvel.
Last month the Government Accountability Office released a report highlighting the impacts of dams and other activities that impair water quality, stating “human health is at risk and certain species, such as salmon, are threatened or extinct.” In December 2016, Congress amended the Clean Water Act by adding Section 123, which requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take actions related to restoration efforts in the Columbia Basin. Despite this focus on restoring the Columbia River, the PUDs discharge oil and other pollution without protections afforded by the Clean Water Act.
Columbia Riverkeeper is represented by staff attorneys and Brian Knutsen of Kampmeier Knutsen, PLLC.
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.