U.S. Bureau of Reclamation settled a lawsuit last week initially filed June 29,
2016 by Columbia Riverkeeper. The suit asked the agency to stop leaking
“uncontrolled toxic oil pollution” at Grand Coulee Dam on the upper Columbia
suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Washington and was the
second such suit filed by the conservation group against dam operators. The
first suit, filed in 2014, targeted oil pollution from the eight dams on the
Columbia and Snake rivers operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It, too,
resulted in a settlement. The current settlement was completed January 19.
Coulee, the group said, has leaked oil into the Columbia for over 70
years—endangering public health and threatening fish and wildlife. According to
the settlement, “the Bureau discharges pollutants from the Grand Coulee Dam
Project, including associated structures and facilities such as turbines,
powerhouses, transformers, spillways, and cranes….”
the first time in its long history, Grand Coulee Dam must reduce toxic pollution,”
said Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “People
rely on the Columbia for clean water and strong salmon runs. Today’s settlement
ensures the federal government does its part to keep toxic pollution out of the
settlement ended decades of unregulated oil pollution, the group said. It
requires the BOR to join its federal partners at the Corps to investigate
replacing toxic oils at Grand Coulee with eco-friendly lubricants or switch to
using non-lubricated equipment.
settlement document is at
to Columbia Riverkeeper this is the first time the Corps is testing
eco-friendly oils in large hydroelectric dams, as required by Riverkeeper’s
2014 settlement. If the tests are successful, the Corps must switch to
eco-friendly oil in eight of America’s largest dams: Bonneville, The Dalles,
McNary, Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite.
latest settlement builds on the Corps’ investigation and could lead to similar
changes at Grand Coulee Dam, the group said.
settlement document concedes that the BOR currently has a spill plan in place,
known as a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure plan, currently uses
some non-lubricated components to minimize the risk of discharges and has a
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
they want that permit updated and include oil discharges. Within 10 months the
BOR shall apply for an additional NPDES to address the alleged discharges filed
by Columbia Riverkeeper, the settlement says.
addition, within 18 months the BOR must complete an assessment of whether it is
feasible to switch to using components that do not require lubrication and
switch to more environment friendly lubricants.
settlement also includes a payment from the BOR to Columbia Riverkeeper of
$33,875 for the cost of counsel (Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC, and Columbia
Riverkeeper staff attorneys, Lauren Goldberg and Miles Johnson).
documents, including the complaint filed with the court, are available at
July 1, 2016, “Columbia Riverkeeper Files Suit To Reduce Oil Pollution At Grand
Coulee Dam, http://www.cbbulletin.com/437037.aspx
CBB, Aug. 8, 2014, “Corps, Conservation Group Reach Agreement On Reducing
Potential Pollutants From Basin Federal Dams,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/431694.aspx