Environmental Protection Agency officials, citing toxic contaminants in the Columbia River Basin as a serious risk to the region’s economic health, said that the EPA plans to invest $79 million over five years for protection and restoration of the river.
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said that up to $6.9 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Clean Water Act grants would be awarded during 2022 alone to reduce toxics in fish and water and address climate impacts in communities throughout the area.
“The Columbia River Basin is a vital economic engine and an irreplaceable environmental asset, providing a broad range of benefits from agriculture to recreation to electricity, but toxic contaminants in the basin pose a serious risk,” Regan said in an Aug. 10 announcement.
The EPA said it will award at least 12 grants using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds in 2022 amounting to $3.8 million. The agency plans to issue additional requests for applications using this year’s infrastructure law funding to boost toxics reduction through agricultural best practices, stormwater green infrastructure, pollution prevention, contaminated sites cleanup and community education and engagement.
“We must do everything we can to keep our rivers and waterways clean and healthy,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, who amended the Clean Water Act to create the Columbia River effort. “Funding from the Columbia River (Basin) Restoration Program will reduce toxic contaminants in the Basin.”
The EPA initially announced several grants totaling $1.8 million as examples of how the program would build community and tribal government capacity around the basin. Other grants to be awarded this year include funds for pollution education, reducing per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances(PFAS) and phthalates in local water systems, monitoring mercury risks and monitoring water quality.
The Columbia River Basin covers 260,000 square miles across Oregon Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Toxics in fish are a primary health concern for many stakeholders.
Congress amended the Clean Water Act in 2016 by adding Section 123, establishing a Columbia River Basin Restoration Program to develop a voluntary, competitive grant program for eligible entities to fund environmental protection and restoration programs throughout the Basin.