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Columbia Riverkeeper, Bureau Of Reclamation Reach Settlement On Pollution At Grand Coulee Dam
Posted on Friday, January 27, 2017 (PST)

The 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 River.


The 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.


Grand 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….”


“For 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 Columbia.”


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.


The settlement document is at


According 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.


Riverkeeper’s latest settlement builds on the Corps’ investigation and could lead to similar changes at Grand Coulee Dam, the group said.


The 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.


But 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.


In 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.


The 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).


Legal documents, including the complaint filed with the court, are available at


Also see:


--CBB, July 1, 2016, “Columbia Riverkeeper Files Suit To Reduce Oil Pollution At Grand Coulee Dam,


-- CBB, Aug. 8, 2014, “Corps, Conservation Group Reach Agreement On Reducing Potential Pollutants From Basin Federal Dams,”

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