At the Dalles Dam Thursday a thrust hub cooling water pipe broke, spilling up to 200 gallons of oil into the Columbia River. The equipment is part of a fish unit turbine designed to provide attraction water for migrating fish.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District said late Thursday the agency is in the process of containing as much oil as possible. The turbine is now isolated from the river.
“Our goal is to respond swiftly during oil spill responses,” said Dwane Watsek, Operations Division chief. “Our team at The Dalles took immediate actions to remove the unit from service and contain and clean up oil with booms and skimmers,” he said. “The unit will remain out of service and isolated from the river until technicians assess and repair it.”
Corps technicians are assessing how much oil actually spilled into the river, as some of the 200 gallons may be contained in a draft tube or collection channel within the dam.
Corps officials notified partner agencies, including National Response Center, Oregon and Washington emergency management offices and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
In 2014, the Corps and the conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper reached a settlement in federal court that headed off a legal battle over whether Columbia and Snake river hydro projects are releasing pollutants in violation of the Clean Water Act.
The settlement stressed that the Corps was not admitting guilt, but would take actions intended to assure its dam operations are in compliance with the federal CWA. The Corps operates the four dams on the lower Columbia mainstem and four dams on the lower Snake River that were singled out in three lawsuits filed in 2013 by Columbia Riverkeeper.
Immediately following the Corps’ announcement of the Dalles Dam spill Thursday Columbia Riverkeeper issued a statement:
“Today’s oil spill comes over six years after the Army Corps agreed to stop violating the Clean Water Act and obtain required pollution reduction permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Yet the Corps continues to report large oil spills from dams, including Bonneville and The Dalles, in violation of state and federal laws. The Trump administration released draft permits in March 2020 but, to date, has failed to hold the Corps accountable for a long history of oil releases from federal dams, including The Dalles Lock and Dam.
“Oil spills from dams must stop. Shockingly, the Army Corps faces no penalties for fouling the Columbia River with toxic oil,” states Lauren Goldberg, Legal and Program Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “EPA—which has the authority to hold the Corps accountable—has ignored toxic oil pollution from federal dams for decades. It’s time to stop playing politics and protect clean water.”