Breaking News: Clean Water Victory

“Today’s settlement is a big win for clean water and everyone who values the Columbia’s iconic salmon and the people and cultures that rely on them,” -Lauren Goldberg, Columbia Riverkeeper


West Coast Port to Spend Over $25 Million to Reduce Water Pollution, Pay Penalty in Legal Settlement with Columbia Riverkeeper

Port of Vancouver USA to reduce pollution that threatens endangered salmon, water quality under proposed Clean Water Act settlement
Columbia River near Vancouver, Washington showing water, mountain, and industry with a small kayaker in the background.
Port of Vancouver, USA. Photo by Columbia Riverkeeper.

Vancouver, WA (September 12, 2023)—Today, Columbia Riverkeeper and the Port of Vancouver USA reached an agreement settling a Clean Water Act lawsuit challenging years of alleged unlawful water pollution from the public port. In the settlement, the port committed to make significant changes to reduce the amount of water pollution that flows off the 1643-acre property and into the Columbia River. Before it can go into effect, the proposed settlement must undergo a 45-day review period by the U.S. Department of Justice and then be approved by a federal district court judge.

Today’s settlement is a big win for clean water and everyone who values the Columbia’s iconic salmon and the people and cultures that rely on them,” said Columbia Riverkeeper Executive Director Lauren Goldberg. “Public ports have a critical role to play in keeping the Columbia swimmable and fishable for all.

The Port of Vancouver USA is one of the largest public ports in Washington state. Port facilities include five marine terminals and waterfront industrial property with direct connections to the Columbia River, main-line rail, and interstate highway. Cargo handling specialties include bulk cargos and breakbulk commodities with dedicated shipping facilities for grains, mineral ore, automobiles, and agricultural commodities.

"I'm pleased the Port Commission understands that a healthy environment makes for a healthy economy in the long term,” stated Don Steinke, a Vancouver resident, retired science teacher, and Columbia Riverkeeper member.

“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,” stated Brian Knutsen, a partner at Kampmeier & Knusten PLLC and attorney representing Columbia Riverkeeper. Research by the National Marine Fisheries Service and University of Washington, shows that copper is extremely toxic to salmon, even at very low concentrations.

As part of the settlement, the port agreed to work with their tenant that handles copper ore, Vancouver Bulk Terminals, to install a $25.5 million rotainer system. Under the new system, the terminal will receive and store copper ore in fully enclosed containers. This will significantly reduce the amount of copper entering the Columbia. 

Columbia Riverkeeper also filed Clean Water Act claims against the previous tenant at the Port of Vancouver USA handling copper, Metropolitan Stevedore Company, and Columbia Riverkeeper notified the current tenant, Vancouver Bulk Terminal (VBT), that Riverkeeper intended to sue it for Clean Water Act violations. Both Metro and VBT have been joined to Columbia Riverkeeper’s lawsuit against the Port and claims against them are settled as a result of today’s settlement.

As part of the settlement, the Port of Vancouver USA agreed to make several other improvements to its facility to reduce industrial pollution, including:

  • develop and implement an operations and maintenance plan for the bioretention treatment system at Terminal 2, 
  • relocate metal stored in the boneyard near the maintenance shop to a location where it will not come into contact with precipitation or stormwater runoff, 
  • develop and implement a study to identify the locations most responsible for exceedances of the port permit’s benchmark for total copper, and 
  • purchase a Vactor truck to reduce stormwater pollution. 

To reduce harm from its pollution and deter any future Clean Water Act violations, the settlement requires the port to make a payment-in-lieu-of-a-penalty of $500,000 to the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board (LCRFB), the Regional Salmon Recovery Organization and Lead Entity for salmon habitat restoration for the lower Columbia River in southwest Washington. The LCFRB works with a diversity of partners to recover salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations to healthy, harvestable levels by guiding implementation of the federally adopted recovery plan. The port has also agreed to fund and implement a $150,000 project to improve water quality in Vancouver Lake, to be completed by January 2024. 

“Over the years, the port has been under pressure to do more environmentally, including supporting a healthier Vancouver Lake,” says local Vancouver activist Cathryn Chudy. “I am so happy to see the port walking the walk to support the local environment.”


About Columbia Riverkeeper

Columbia Riverkeeper’s vision is a Columbia River that unites people to fight for clean water, abundant fish and wildlife, and our climate. Founded in 2000, the non-profit has over 16,000 members who live, work, and recreate throughout the Columbia River Basin. For over two decades, Columbia Riverkeeper has worked in solidarity with Tribes and people who rely on clean water to advocate for a river where everyone can eat locally-caught fish without fear of getting sick. Through the organization’s Stopping Pollution program area, Columbia Riverkeeper uses the Clean Water Act to hold polluters accountable and reduce harmful pollution when the government is not enforcing the law.

Public Ports Under Scrutiny

The Port of Vancouver USA lawsuit follows a concerning trend with other public ports in Washington. In recent years Puget Soundkeeper successfully settled Clean Water Act cases against the Port of Seattle and the Port of Everett. In 2022, Columbia Riverkeeper reached a Clean Water Act settlement with the Port of Longview, which required the port to make numerous improvements to reduce water pollution and pay a $650,000 payment-in-lieu-of-penalty for projects benefiting water quality. Earlier in 2022, Riverkeeper settled a case against EGT, LLC, a grain terminal located at the Port of Longview, which required the facility to obtain a Clean Water Act permit after operating without the key pollution-reduction permit for a decade. 

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