Holding Polluters Accountable

Wanapum and Priest Rapids Dam Settlement


Columbia Riverkeeper, Grant County Public Utility District Settle Lawsuit to End Unlawful Oil Pollution at Two Hydroelectric Dams on Columbia River

Settlement the latest in a series of successful lawsuits to reduce pollution from PUD-operated dams on the Columbia River

December 2, 2022 (Mattaw, Wash.)—On December 1, Columbia Riverkeeper reached an agreement in principle with Grant County Public Utility District (PUD) concluding litigation to reduce toxic pollution from the Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams. This settlement marks the third successful lawsuit against PUD-operated dams on the Columbia River. Under a prior agreement, Grant PUD agreed to comply with the Clean Water Act’s requirement that polluters obtain a permit to monitor and reduce water pollution. This settlement concludes the litigation and requires the PUD to pay a penalty. 

“For decades, massive hydroelectric dams violated the Clean Water Act and polluted the Columbia River. That era is over. The dams leak and spill large amounts of oil, undermining efforts to protect the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest for all people who rely on clean water. Today’s settlement is part of a broader effort to reduce toxic pollution and ensure a fishable, swimmable Columbia,” stated Lauren Goldenberg, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper.  

Under the prior agreement, Grant County PUD applied for pollution discharge permits from the Washington Department of Ecology and investigated switching to eco-friendly oils. 

Hydroelectric dams like Wanpaum and Priest Rapids routinely discharge oil and other pollution to the Columbia River, which threaten fish, wildlife, and the people that rely on locally-caught fish. 

Pollution discharge permits required under the prior agreement require that the PUD monitor and reduce the amount of pollution entering the Columbia. With the final settlement, the PUD agreed to pay a penalty of $195,000 to the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation for projects benefiting water quality in the Columbia River. 

“Fish advisories warning people not to eat otherwise healthy fish are not the answer. Everyone that relies on the Columbia, including PUDs, must do their part to reduce water pollution to ensure people can eat locally-caught fish,” stated Goldberg.

According to the Washington Department of Health, chemical contaminants, like mercury and PCBs, have been found throughout the Columbia River basin. These chemicals accumulate in fish. The Washington Department of Health’s fish advisory for the Columbia’s Hanford Reach encompasses an area within and downstream of the dams. 

Before the settlement can go into effect, it must undergo a 45-day review period by the U.S. Department of Justice and then receive approval from a federal district court judge. 

This settlement builds on Columbia Riverkeeper’s legal victories against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In 2013, Columbia Riverkeeper sued the Corps for illegally discharging oil and other other pollution from the eight federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers without pollution permits required under the Clean Water Act. Columbia Riverkeeper brought a similar case against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 2016 for unlawful pollution from the Grand Coulee Dam. Columbia Riverkeeper reached settlements with both federal agencies that required the agencies to obtain permits-to-pollute and investigate using less harmful oils in dam equipment. 

Over the last four years, Columbia Riverkeeper has settled similar lawsuits against three other PUD-operated dams on the Columbia River: Douglas County and Chelan County PUDs. 

Columbia Riverkeeper is a nonprofit organization working to protect and restore the Columbia River and all life connected to it. The organization’s staff attorney, Simone Anter, and Brian Knutsen of Kampmeier Knutsen, PLLC represented 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. Columbia Riverkeeper works with people in dozens of communities—rural and urban—with the same goals: protecting the health of their families and the places they love. Columbia Riverkeeper enforces environmental laws to stop illegal pollution, protects salmon habitat, and challenges harmful fossil fuel terminals. 

About Our Work

Columbia Riverkeeper uses the Clean Water Act to keep toxic oil pollution from large hydroelectric dams out of the river.