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New Landscape for Columbia River Dam Discharge

August 5, 2014

A settlement announced this Monday, August 4, 2014, requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to apply for Clean Water Act permits to discharge pollutants associated with operation of eight dams along the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon and Washington. Additionally, the Army Corps must notify Columbia Riverkeeper when pollutants pass through these government-operated dams. In connection with its discharge permits, the Army Corps will be required to monitor the amount of pollution being discharged and the Army Corps will be required to identify and use best management practices to control oil and other pollutants discharged by the dams. To reduce potential pollution from its dams, the Army Corps must also switch from petroleum lubricants to “Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants,” if found technically feasible.


This settlement is the result of a citizen suit filed by Columbia Riverkeeper in 2013 in federal district court in Oregon, Western Washington, and Eastern Washington, before the cases were consolidated in the Eastern District of Washington. Riverkeeper’s complaints alleged that the Army Corps violated the Clean Water Act with unmonitored, unpermitted oil discharges from eight hydroelectric dams. The dams addressed include the Bonneville, the John Day, The Dalles and McNary in Oregon and the Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite in Washington. A highly-publicized 2012 spill of transformer oil containing PCBs at the Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River has been at the center of this controversy.


Although the settlement only applies to the eight dams at issue in the litigation, it could have nationwide implications for the hundreds of dams managed by the federal government as this issue is now, more than ever, on the radar of environmental groups throughout the country.

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