Suit over Coulee pol­lu­tion

Group sues fed­eral agency to force pol­lu­tion dis­clo­sure at huge dam

The Daily Herald - - NORTHWEST EXTRA - By Phuong Le

SEAT­TLE — An en­vi­ron­men­tal group sued the fed­eral agency that op­er­ates the na­tion’s largest hy­dropower pro­ducer Wed­nes­day, say­ing op­er­a­tions at the Grand Coulee Dam are pol­lut­ing the Columbia River in vi­o­la­tion of fed­eral clean-wa­ter laws.

The non­profit Columbia River­keeper says the Bureau of Recla­ma­tion should get a pol­lu­tion per­mit and be re­quired to dis­close as well as re­duce the amount of oil, greases and other pol­lu­tants the dam in eastern Wash­ing­ton sends into lo­cal wa­ters.

“The dam is sim­i­lar to a gi­ant fac­tory placed in the river, and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should play by the same rules as other dis­charg­ers,” said Brett Van­denHeu­vel, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Man­u­fac­tur­ing plants, mu­nic­i­pal waste­water treat­ment plants and other fa­cil­i­ties that re­lease pol­lu­tants into wa­ter­ways must ob­tain per­mis­sion from state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments.

Michael Wil­liamson, a Bureau of Recla­ma­tion spokesman, said he couldn’t com­ment on pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion. The agency op­er­ates 53 hy­dro­elec­tric power plants in the coun­try.

The Grand Coulee Dam pro­vides enough elec­tric­ity to power 2.3 mil­lion house­holds in 11 states and Canada in one year.

The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pa­cific North­west, flow­ing more than 1,200 miles from the Cana­dian Rock­ies to the Pa­cific Ocean. It is trea­sured for its beauty and recre­ational of­fer­ings, and for the salmon and steel­head caught by sport and com­mer­cial fish­er­men and Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

The group says wa­ter pol­lu­tion harms salmon and wildlife and threat­ens the health of peo­ple who eat lo­cal fish.

The law­suit al­leges an un­known amount of oil stored and used at the dam en­ters the Columbia River with­out mon­i­tor­ing and other con­trols re­quired un­der the fed­eral Clean Wa­ter Act.

In 2013, the group sim­i­larly sued the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers for re­leas­ing — with­out a pol­lu­tion per­mit — oils, cool­ing wa­ter and other pol­lu­tants from eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton.

In a 2014 set­tle­ment, the Corps agreed to dis­close the amount of pol­lu­tants its dams send into lo­cal wa­ters and, for the first time on those dams, ap­ply to the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency for a pol­lu­tion per­mit. The Corps also agreed to in­ves­ti­gate the use of more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly oils at the dams.

Columbia River­keeper says it hopes Wed­nes­day’s law­suit will push the Bureau of Recla­ma­tion to do the same.


Wa­ter is re­leased through the out­let tubes at Grand Coulee Dam in 2011. An en­vi­ron­men­tal group has sued the fed­eral agency that op­er­ates the na­tion’s largest hy­dropower pro­ducer, say­ing op­er­a­tions at the Grand Coulee Dam in are pol­lut­ing the Columbia River in vi­o­la­tion of fed­eral clean­wa­ter laws.

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