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NW Fishletter #390, February 4, 2019

[14] Vancouver Fined For Raw Sewage Spill Into Columbia

The Washington Department of Ecology fined the city of Vancouver $60,000 for spilling almost 600,000 gallons of raw or partly treated sewage into the Columbia River in 2017, the agency reported in a Jan. 4 news release.

Heather Bartlett, Ecology's water quality program manager, called the two discharges of sewage preventable, blaming them on "unacceptable training, maintenance and operations."

According to the release, a power outage on Sept. 30, 2017, at Vancouver's West Side Wastewater Treatment Plant caused the plant to release about 395,000 gallons of raw sewage, and 109,000 gallons of sewage that had been treated but not disinfected.

Operators did not realize that power was available for about two-and-a-half hours, the release said. During the outage, only one of three generators came on, which was not enough to power the system. Ecology found violations because an operator with senior-level certification was not on duty, and the city failed to properly maintain the plant's backup system.

Another 80,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into the river 17 days later. The release said the large pumps were inadvertently disabled when controls were improperly set during an equipment calibration, and that an overflow system diverted sewage into the river for 15 minutes before operators corrected the problem.

The sewage spills put bacteria and other pathogens that cause diseases into the river. Oregon and Washington health officials issued temporary warnings for people to avoid contact with the river, and fish agencies considered closing the Columbia to sturgeon fishing but instead advised anglers to thoroughly wash their catch.

The city has since taken action with improved staff training, the release said. It has also conducted its own evaluation to make operational improvements, and added environmental safeguards including a $2.2 million emergency pumping system. -K.C. Mehaffey

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