Columbia Riverkeeper affirms that access to clean water is a basic human right.

Defending Your Right to Clean Water

Columbia Riverkeeper affirms that access to clean water is a basic human right. To us, this means that we should all have clean drinking water coming out of the taps in our homes, schools, and workplaces. It also means that we should all have access to clean rivers, lakes, and coastlines where we can swim, play, work, and catch fish and other wild foods without fear of toxic pollution. These two meanings of “clean water” are often intertwined, because clean, plentiful drinking water typically comes from a clean and healthy river, lake, or aquifer.

Like so many basic human rights, our right to clean water requires constant and unwavering defense. The Columbia River and many of its communities face real challenges to water quality and availability. For instance:

  • Contamination from sites like Bradford Island, the Hanford Nuclear Site, and hundreds of smaller toxic cleanup sites is leaching into the river.
  • Industrial water bottling companies like Nestle seek to privatize and control public water resources.
  • The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs is working to restore access and infrastructure for clean water to its members, many of whom lack reliable or convenient sources of clean water.
  • Thousands of pipes discharge toxic pollution from industry, cities, and dirty stormwater runoff into the Columbia and its tributaries.
  • In parts of the Columbia River, like the Columbia Slough in North Portland and Bradford Island just upstream from Bonneville Dam, the Oregon Health Authority recommends eating little or no resident fish, due to toxic contamination.

Clearly, our right to clean water depends on strong defenders—including Columbia Riverkeeper and our dedicated members.

“Columbia Riverkeeper’s work to protect the Pacific Northwest from dirty fossil fuel exports is also good for clean water. Fossil fuel export terminals proposed and operating in the Lower Columbia discharge polluted stormwater into the river and increase the risks of oil spills and other catastrophes.”

Strengthening and Defending the Laws that Protect Clean Water

Broadly speaking, how does Columbia Riverkeeper defend your right to clean water? In partnership with concerned community members, Tribes, and nonprofit groups, we advocate for government agencies and legislatures to make our environmental laws and regulations more protective and equitable. We defend against ever-present attempts to weaken those laws, even going to court if necessary. We enforce laws like the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other regulations to make sure that big corporations can’t find loopholes or illegally pollute the river. And we work to stop new development proposals that would threaten our right to clean water and a healthy Columbia.

Let’s get specific. Here’s how your membership is helping Columbia Riverkeeper strengthen and defend the laws and regulatory programs that protect clean water and river communities in 2022.

  • Healthy Fish for All: Columbia Riverkeeper, other Waterkeeper groups, and Tribes are beating back an industry-led attack on Washington’s water quality standards, which are designed to protect people who eat fish in the Columbia River and elsewhere from health problems caused by toxic pollution in fish tissue.
  • Safe Drinking Water in Rural Oregon: Columbia Riverkeeper, a member of the Stand Up to Factory Farms coalition, is petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act to address widespread and dangerous nitrate contamination of critical drinking water resources in Morrow and Umatilla counties.
  • Un-doing Trump’s Attacks on Clean Water: The Trump Administration weakened many of America’s bedrock protections for environmental and public health. Columbia Riverkeeper, along with Earthjustice and a number of states and Tribes, are still working hard to undo the damage and restore important protections in court. How? We are pushing EPA to re-establish Clean Water Act protections for all waterways and wetlands, as well as restore states and Tribes’ full authorities to reject or condition federally licensed projects that would violate water quality standards.
  • Cleaning Up Old Messes: Columbia Riverkeeper, in partnership with Yakama Nation, is working to compel the U.S. government to clean up its own toxic messes at Bradford Island and Hanford. Decades ago, the Army Corps and the Department of Energy unsafely disposed of toxic and radioactive waste near the Columbia River—and that waste is still leaching into the river today. This year, we helped convince EPA to list Bradford Island and surrounding waters on the national Superfund List. The listing will lead to additional cleanup funding, heightened scrutiny by EPA, and tighter legal controls to reduce threats to public health and the environment.
  • Fighting for stronger legal protections, and defending the important protections we already have, involves a lot of complicated and technical behind-the-scenes work. But this work, which is made possible by members like you, lays the foundation for our right to clean water.

"Taking on big polluters keeps contamination out of the Columbia River and sends a strong message that breaking the laws protecting water quality doesn’t pay."

Holding Polluters Accountable

Strong environmental protections are great, but are only the beginning. What happens when corporations and government officials ignore the rules and infringe upon the public’s right to clean water? Columbia Riverkeeper uses the Clean Water Act to hold illegal polluters accountable and force them to pay penalties to mitigate the harm they caused to public resources. In 2022, Columbia Riverkeeper is taking on:

  • Weyerhaeuser: A 240-acre log export yard in Longview discharges contaminated stormwater into the Columbia River in violation of the facility’s Clean Water Act permit.
  • EGT Grain Terminal: A massive grain export terminal in Longview sent its industrial stormwater into the Columbia River without a Clean Water Act permit.
  • The Ports of Longview and Vancouver: Both ports discharge under-treated industrial stormwater containing high levels of toxic metals, like copper, that are extremely harmful to salmon.
  • Perennial Fracked Gas Power Plant: A fracked gas power plant proposed near Boardman illegally began construction without obtaining a Clean Water Act permit.

We’ll make sure these facilities comply with the Clean Water Act and pay stiff penalties for their violations—over a million dollars in 2022. Penalty money from our enforcement cases never goes to Columbia Riverkeeper; instead, it funds Tribal governments, other nonprofit organizations, and community groups working to protect and restore the Columbia. Taking on big polluters keeps contamination out of the Columbia River and sends a strong message that breaking the laws protecting water quality doesn’t pay.

At Columbia Riverkeeper, it is our pleasure and privilege to defend your right to clean water. Your contributions— whether volunteering, writing letters to public officials, or funding this work—make it all possible. Together, we can protect and restore the Columbia and help ensure that its many communities have clean water flowing from their faucets and in their rivers.

Newsletter Issue 2, 2022