Columbia Riverkeeper’s Stopping Pollution program creates tangible changes for clean water.
Restoring Rights to Clean Water
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Standing on the banks of the Columbia River this fall near the Bradford Island Superfund site, I could envision a future in which we will no longer need to warn people fishing here about which fish they should avoid bringing home to feed their families. By pursuing smart litigation, passing protective laws, engaging communities, and pressuring sluggish agencies and dirty industries, Columbia Riverkeeper’s Stopping Pollution program creates tangible changes for clean water, including at the Columbia’s newest Superfund site.
Prevent Industrial Pollution
Columbia Riverkeeper scored major victories for clean water, healthy fish, and river communities this year. For over two decades, the organization has used the Clean Water Act to hold polluters accountable to protect our collective right to clean, safe rivers.
In 2023, our legal team, with incredible support from outside counsel at Kampmeier & Knutsen PLLC and Smith & Lowney PLLC, prosecuted six Clean Water Act enforcement cases. For example, this September we won a huge victory for clean water and salmon when the Port of Vancouver USA agreed to settle our lawsuit. Available information, including the port’s water quality sampling data, suggest that the port is the single largest industrial source of unhealthy copper levels in the lower Columbia River over the last decade. Even in low concentrations, copper is extremely toxic to salmon. Under the terms of the agreement, the port will spend more than $25 million to install new equipment to prevent copper from getting into the river and poisoning fish. It will also pay $500,000 to the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board and $150,000 to improve water quality in Vancouver Lake, which has been dogged by persistent toxic algal blooms.
Columbia Riverkeeper also built on over a decade of legal advocacy to reduce pollution from dams. Big dams routinely pollute the water by releasing oil into the Snake and Columbia rivers. Dams also cause heat pollution, which is lethal for salmon and other fish. For over a decade, Columbia Riverkeeper has been litigating to make sure that the Clean Water Act applies to federal dams. This year we scored a big win on the Lower Snake and Columbia rivers, ensuring all 10 dams will be held accountable to federal Clean Water Act standards that reduce illegal pollution.
Stop Factory Farm Pollution
As a founding member of the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition, Columbia Riverkeeper advocated in the Oregon legislature in 2023 for a moratorium on factory farms that pollute groundwater and rivers. Although the final version of the bill did not go far enough, it did put a cap on water use, which helped to halt plans to construct two massive chicken factory farms in the Willamette Valley. With our partners, we’ll build on this momentum to continue protecting water and Columbia River communities from polluting factory farms.
Clean up Toxic Waste Dump
Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listened to calls for environmental justice on the Columbia by designating Bradford Island and surrounding waters near the Bonneville Dam a Superfund site. This year, from Columbia Riverkeeper’s seat on the Restoration Advisory Board, Community Organizer Kate Murphy has been putting pressure on the federal government to move the cleanup process at Bradford Island and surrounding waters forward. Columbia Riverkeeper also created easy-to-understand fish advisories in English and Spanish to inform fishers in the area about which fish are safe to bring home to their families.
Keep up the Momentum
As we head into 2024, it brings me hope that Columbia Riverkeeper’s ongoing work stopping pollution is making real progress to restore clean water and healthy fish for everyone that relies on the mighty Columbia.
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