December 3, 2020 (The Dalles, OR)—The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) reports that The Dalles Dam released approximately 200 gallons of turbine oil into the Columbia River where a sheen is seen. According to an oil spill notice from the Army Corps, the agency is in the process of containment and determining the exact amount of the release. 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.”
In 2014, Columbia Riverkeeper settled a lawsuit against the Army Corps to stop oil pollution from eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, including Bonneville, John Day, The Dalles, and McNary, Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite. The settlement required the Army Corps to apply for water pollution permits from the EPA. In the settlement, the Army Corps also agreed to study the use of non-toxic oils and implement an Oil Accountability Program to track oil spills. If EPA issues pollution permits as required by the Clean Water Act, The permits would require the Army Corps to monitor and reduce oil and other water pollution from the dams.
“Toxic pollution threatens people, fish, and wildlife that rely on clean water. The Dalles Dam oil spill, and many others, demonstrate the Army Corps must switch to non-toxic oils and protect salmon and people that rely on clean water. And this requires EPA to do its job and control pollution from federal dams,” states Goldberg.
Oil spills occur on a routine basis at Columbia and Snake river dams, including a series of oil spills at Lower Monumental Dam in 2017 that spilled over 1,600 gallons of oil into the Snake River. In 2012 the Army Corps reported discharging over 1,500 gallons of PCB-laden transformer oil at the Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River. According to the EPA, PCBs cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. The oil from the Ice Harbor spill contained PCBs at levels 14,000,000% greater than state and federal chronic water quality standards.