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NW Fishletter #386, Oct. 2, 2018

[8] Group Notifies PUDs of Intent to Sue Over Oil Spilling

The nonprofit organization Columbia Riverkeeper has sent notices to Chelan, Douglas and Grant county PUDs, warning of its intention to file a lawsuit against them for failing to get permits that would account for leaking oil at their mid-Columbia River dams.

In a Sept. 19 announcement, the group claims the utilities need to acquire a water pollution discharge permit under the Clean Water Act to ensure they are monitoring spills and providing a full public accounting of oil spills at any of the five hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River.

Columbia Riverkeeper also said the PUDs have violated the Clean Water Act by not having a water pollution discharge permit, failing to monitor spills and not providing a full accounting to the public after oil spills from equipment at the dams.

The action comes four years after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and BuRec agreed in a settlement with Riverkeeper to apply for pollution discharge permits for eight Columbia and Snake river dams operated by the federal agencies. The group sued in 2012, claiming the permits are required under the Clean Water Act.

As part of the settlement, the agencies agreed to look into using less harmful lubricants and have since taken steps to replace conventional oils with oils that are less harmful to fish and other aquatic life, the group says.

The new notices of intent to sue were sent to the three PUDs that operate Wells, Rocky Reach, Rock Island, Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams.

"Oil pollution from dams must stop," Riverkeeper executive director Brett VandenHeuvel said in a news release. "People rely on clean water and healthy salmon runs. It's past time for the public utility districts to protect clean water in the Columbia River."

According to the news release, Congress amended the Clean Water Act in 2016 by adding Section 123, which requires the EPA to take action related to restoring water quality in the Columbia Basin. In August, the federal Government Accountability Office released a report on the implementation of that section.

The report noted that while federal, state, tribal and other entities implemented efforts to improve water quality in the basin from 2010 through 2016, EPA has not yet taken steps to establish the Columbia River Basin Restoration Program as outlined in the new section due to a lack of dedicated funding.

The report added that the agency has not yet requested funding, nor identified needed resources. -K.C. Mehaffey

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: K.C. Mehaffey
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