Environmental group sues government agency over fish kills

Columbia Riverkeeper filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the US Army Corps of Engineers, alleging the federal agency is illegally polluting the Columbia River with hot water, oil and toxic chemicals that are killing thousands of fish.

Four dams operated by the Army Corps on the Columbia River between Portland, OR, and Tri-Cities, WA, release illegal pollution in violation of the Clean Water Act, the complaint alleged.

Dams on the Columbia River make water too warm for endangered salmon and rainbow trout, says government studies. Last summer, Columbia Riverkeeper captured graphic pictures of sockeye salmon dying from the hot water in the Columbia River Gorge. Clean Water Act permits would require my Corps to reduce heat and other types of pollution from dams.

“The salmon are dying because the water is too hot. It is high time for the Army Corps to reduce illegal thermal pollution from dams,” said Brett Vanden Heuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “No one is above the law. Columbia Riverkeeper fights for cool, clean water – and dams make the river too hot.

In response, the Corps said it would coordinate with the Justice Department to determine appropriate next steps.

“We take our obligations under the Clean Water Act seriously. Our team works tirelessly to find solutions that balance all system objectives, including the needs of fish and wildlife, flood risk management, navigation, power generation, recreation, water supply and water quality,” the agency said in a statement. statement released by the Corps Northwest Division in Portland.

“To dispel misinformation, (the Corps) notes that the Columbia Riverkeeper press release does not accurately describe our ability to manage water behind dams in the lower Columbia River. Although the basins behind the lower Columbia dams are considered reservoirs, they are largely not storage reservoirs, but rather run-of-the-river facilities.This limits our ability to influence water temperatures by lowering water levels in the spring.

In its lawsuit, the environmental monitoring group says the Columbia River “is one of the great river systems in the West. This river supports rich fishing traditions, provides water for communities and agriculture, provides recreational opportunities, and powers hydroelectric dams. The Columbia River is also severely degraded by pollution. Toxic pollution threatens the health of people who eat resident fish and compromises the public’s right to eat locally caught fish.

“Rising water temperatures also threaten the health of salmon and other aquatic species who depend on cool water for their survival, as demonstrated in 2015 when water reached temperatures warm enough to kill thousands of migrating sockeye salmon heading into central Colombia and lower rivers Snake. Scientists estimate that more than 277,000 sockeye salmon, or about 55% of the total run returning from the ocean to spawn, died in the Columbia and Snake rivers due to warm water temperatures.

The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River near The Dalles, Oregon, is one of four dams on the river that is dumping illegal pollution and killing fish by the thousands, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Chang W. Lee The New York Times

Columbia Riverkeeper maintains that even if the Corps obtained the necessary permits for hot water and chemical discharges, it would only limit such activities for five years.

“The discharges from dams described herein are discharges of pollutants into navigable waters from point sources that violate Section 301(a) of the (Clean Water Act), if made without the permission of a (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) CWA violations by the Corps are likely to recur even if the Corps obtains NPDES permits for dam discharges Notably, the Corps has a long history of CWA violations at dams due to its initial refusal to apply for the necessary NPDES permits, followed by repeated and prolonged delays in the permitting process which, upon information and belief, are partially attributable to the Corps’ conduct. Any NPDES permits issued for dam discharges will only be effective for five years.

The US Army Corps of Engineers applied for the permits mentioned in the complaint in 2015, the agency said in its statement.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Washington.

This story was originally published December 8, 2021 2:21 p.m.