Columbia Riverkeeper Sues USACE Over Water Pollution

Columbia Riverkeeper, a nonprofit advocate for the water quality of the Columbia River, is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over allegations that the Corps is illegally polluting the waterway with hot water, oil and toxic chemicals.

The complaint, filed in early December in U.S. District Court for the eastern District of Washington, contends that four dams operated by the Corps on the Columbia River between Portland, Oregon and Tri-Cities, Washington, discharge illegal pollution in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Columbia Riverkeeper announced the lawsuit on its website, citing government studies that show that dams on the Columbia River make the water too hot for endangered salmon and steelhead trout. Last summer Columbia Riverkeeper photographed what it describes as graphic images of sockeye salmon dying from hot water in the Columbia River Gorge. Clean water Act permits would require the Corps to reduce heat and other types of pollution from the dams, the lawsuit said.

Columbia Riverkeeper Executive Director Brett VandenHeuvel said that it’s past time for the Corps to reduce illegal heat pollution from dams. The dams are making the river too hot for salmon, he said.

The lawsuit argues that the Columbia River has been severely degraded by pollution which threatens the health of people who eat resident fish as well as the health of the salmon themselves. That was demonstrated in 2015 when rising water temperatures killed thousands of migrating sockeye salmon headed to the mid-Columbia and lower Snake Rivers. Scientists estimate that over 277,000 sockeye, about 55% of the total run returning from the ocean to spawn, died in those rivers due to warm water temperatures.

Attorneys representing Riverkeeper, including the law firm of Kampmeier & Knutsen in Portland, Ore., are seeking injunctive relief to prevent further violations of the Clean Water Act. They said Riverkeeper is willing to discuss effective remedies for the violations detailed in the litigation and settlement terms.