Suit: Grand Coulee Dam pollutes river


Last updated 7/6/2016 at 10:57am

An environmental group has sued the Bureau of Reclamation to force compliance with the Clean Water Act, which it contends Grand Coulee Dam and other big dams are not meeting.

Pollution discharges from the USBR’s operation of the dam “contribute to the pollution crisis on the Columbia River,” the suit brought Thursday by Columbia Riverkeeper says.

The group wants Reclamation to switch to using so called eco-friendly oils and greases as lubricants in machinery that contacts water and file for a pollution permit under the Clean Water Act.

In 2014, the group settled a similar suit with the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates seven large dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

The Corps is currently testing the use of vegetable-based oils for lubricants. If those tests are successful Reclamation could likely use those results and make that switch, too, said Lauren Goldberg, who filed the suit June 29 in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington.

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The complaint seeks to force the Bureau to keep open records on its pollution activities, which Riverkeepers contends it does not, citing documents it says it doesn’t believe represent the extent of the pollution.

The bureau files reports with the U.S. Coast Guard indicating oil spills from time to time. Last June it reported two gallons of lubricant entered the river in separate incidents due to equipment failure, for example, another 10 gallons in 2014 when a fitting leaked on a lift gate. In all, Coast Guard reports cited in the suit record 42.25 gallons of oil spilled since September 2011.

“This lawsuit will end unchecked oil pollution from Grand Coulee Dam,” stated Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper in a press release. “For the first time in its long history, Grand Coulee Dam must reduce toxic pollution, switch to eco-friendly oils, and disclose oil discharges to the public, if we are successful.” 

Bringers of the suit see it as “the next phase in the work to protect clean water and eliminate toxic pollution from dams.”

Goldberg said an application to pollute the river under the Clean Water Act, which the Bureau has not made, would also require it to reduce pollution in order to acquire the permit. It would also have to be more open about pollutants it admits to the river, she said.


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