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Columbia Riverkeeper Sues Army Corps,
says Hot Water Discharge from Dams Kills Fish

by Staff
Tri-City Herald, December 9, 2021

An adult sockeye salmon photographed in the Columbia River near Drano Lake in Washington in July of 2015 covered in fungus caused by thermal stress. (USGS photo) Columbia Riverkeeper filed suit Wednesday against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alleging the federal agency is illegally polluting the Columbia River with hot water, oil, and toxic chemicals that are killing fish by the thousands.

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

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

"Salmon are dying because the water is too hot. It's past time for the Army Corps to reduce illegal heat pollution from dams," said Brett Vanden Heuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. "No one is above the law. Columbia Riverkeeper is fighting for cool, clean water -- and the dams make the river too hot."

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

"We take our Clean Water Act obligations seriously. Our team is working tirelessly to find solutions that balance all of the purposes of the system, 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 released out of the Corps' Northwestern Division in Portland.

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

In its suit, the environmental watchdog group states the Columbia River "is one of the West's great river systems. This river supports rich fishing traditions, provides water for communities and agriculture, supports recreation opportunities, and powers hydroelectric dams. The Columbia River is also severely degraded by pollution. Toxic pollution threatens the health of people that eat resident fish and jeopardizes the public's right to eat fish caught locally.

"Rising water temperatures also threaten the health of salmon and other aquatic life that rely on cool water for survival, as demonstrated in 2015 when water reached temperatures warm enough to kill thousands of migrating sockeye salmon headed to the mid-Columbia and lower Snake Rivers. Scientists estimate that more than 277,000 sockeye, about 55 percent of the total run returning from the ocean to spawn, died in the Columbia and Snake Rivers due to warm water temperatures."

Columbia Riverkeeper maintains that even if the Army Corps were to obtain the necessary permits for hot water and chemical discharges, it would only limit those activities for five years.

"The discharges from the Dams described herein are discharges of pollutants to navigable waters from point sources that violate section 301(a) of the (Clean Water Act), if made without the authorization of a (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit. The Corps' violations of the CWA are likely to recur even if the Corps secures NPDES permits for discharges from the Dams. Notably, the Corps has an extensive history of CWA violations at the Dams due to its initial refusal to apply for the necessary NPDES permits, followed by repeated and extended delays in the permitting process which, upon information and belief, are partially attributable to the Corps' conduct. Any NPDES permits issued for discharges from the Dams will be effective for only five years."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers applied for the permits mentioned in the complaint in 2015, the agency said in its statement. The suit was filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Washington.

Columbia Riverkeeper Sues Army Corps, says Hot Water Discharge from Dams Kills Fish
Tri-City Herald, December 9, 2021

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