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Up to 100 Gallons of Turbine Oil Spilled into
Columbia River from Faulty Bonneville Dam Turbine

by Kale Williams
The Oregonian, July 16, 2020

Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River began to produce power for the Pacific Northwest in 1937. Up to 100 gallons of turbine oil spilled from the Bonneville Dam into the Columbia River over the last week, according to an environmental advocacy group.

Between July 6 and 14, between 70 and 100 gallons of oil spilled into the river from a faulty turbine, Columbia Riverkeeper said in a statement. The turbine thought to be the source of the spill was shut down, and an investigation is ongoing, said Lauren Goldberg, legal and program director for the group.

As water spills through the dam, it flows through turbines, which contain spinning blades that create hydropower. The dam is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"Oil spills from dams must stop. Shockingly, the Army Corps faces no penalties for fouling the Columbia River with toxic oil," Goldberg said in a statement. "Toxic pollution threatens people, fish, and wildlife that rely on clean water.

In 2014, the Corps settled a lawsuit with Columbia Riverkeeper that required the agency to apply for pollution permits, which allow for limited and regulated discharge of pollutants into waterways, from the Environmental Protection Agency for numerous dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers. The settlement also stipulated that the Corps look into the use of non-toxic oils and notify Columbia Riverkeeper when spills take place.

Goldberg said the Corps should move to safer materials immediately and the Environmental Protection Agency needs to step up enforcement.

"The Bonneville Dam oil spill, and many others, demonstrate the Army Corps must switch to non-toxic oils and protect salmon and people that rely on clean water," she said. "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- which has the authority to hold the Corps accountable -- has ignored toxic oil pollution from federal dams for decades. It’s time to stop playing politics and protect clean water."

Mark MacIntyre, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, said the Corps notified them about the leak and said that no oil sheen was visible on the river when the spill was discovered. Given the volume of water flowing through the dam, the Corps was unable to recover any of the oil, he said.

"EPA has been working cooperatively with the Corps for over a decade performing inspections, conducting enforcement, reviewing safety plans, and holding trainings and workshops, all aimed at reducing the number and severity of such releases," MacIntyre said in a statement. "We remain committed to working with the Corps and doing whatever it takes to protect the Columbia from future releases."

The Corps did not respond to a request for comment.

Kale Williams
Up to 100 Gallons of Turbine Oil Spilled into Columbia River from Faulty Bonneville Dam Turbine
The Oregonian, July 16, 2020

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