State Calls Dams Pollution Threat to Riversby Joe Rojas-Burke
The Oregonian, May 18, 2004
Washington cites the Army Corps of Engineers
after leaks at The Dalles and seeks better maintenance
Hydropower dams pose a substantial pollution threat to the Columbia and Snake rivers, Washington's Department of Ecology said Monday in a notice of violation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The state agency asked the corps to improve operation and maintenance of nine dams, where 33 oil spills have occurred since 1999. In the worst recent accident, about 1,300 gallons of PCB-contaminated oil drained into the river from an electrical transformer at The Dalles Dam in January.
"If they had a spill tomorrow, they don't have the training or equipment to respond effectively. More important, they haven't done what's necessary to prevent spills in the first place," said Mary-Ellen Voss, an Ecology Department spokeswoman.
The notice of violation said the corps has violated state oil spill laws and the federal Clean Water Act.
A spokesman for the corps said officials are reviewing the notice and plan to respond "in a speedy manner."
"We've been working with the state of Washington to address their concerns," spokesman Homer Perkins said. "The Columbia River is an important resource to us, too. We need to protect it. We're committed to doing that."
After the January spill, independent investigators said poorly maintained equipment, lax inspections and faulty planning by the corps were to blame. They said that the corps' initial underestimates of the quantity of escaping oil "delayed and hindered" efforts to contain the spill.
The Department of Ecology said that four smaller oil leaks at The Dalles Dam since January show the lack of improvement in the corps' ability to prevent and respond to spills.
Chuck Donaldson with Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality said his agency also might take actions against the corps to ensure compliance with state and federal laws.
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