Army Corps: 200-300 Gallons of Oil
by Carissa Lehmkuhl
KAHLOTUS, Wash. - Hundreds of gallons of oil may have spilled into the Snake River from the Lower Monumental Dam.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District reported that 200-300 gallons of oil are unaccounted for at the dam, presumed to have spilled. The missing oil is believed to have come from one of the turbines, according to Corps spokesman Joe Saxon.
The Corps is currently investigating the incident to determine its cause, and the unit that caused the problem has been taken offline until the issue is resolved. The Corps notified the NRC, EPA and Washington State Department of Ecology as required by law.
"We've improved our oil accountability program over time and while our systems aren't perfect, the lessons learned have greatly improved our overall ability to track and contain oil," said Saxon.
Ty Keltner, communications manager for Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response at the State Department of Ecology, confirmed his department was notified about the spill, but they're waiting to learn from the Corps how much exactly was spilled.
Columbia Riverkeeper, a non-profit environmental organization, was also notified by the Corps about the spill.
"Shockingly, the Army Corps faces no penalties for fouling the Snake River with toxic oil," said Miles Johnson, senior attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper, in a statement. "Oil pollution from Lower Monumental Dam is just one more reason to remove the four obsolete, aging dams on the lower Snake River."
In 2014, Columbia Riverkeeper settled a lawsuit against the Army Corps to stop oil pollution from eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, including Lower Monumental.
As part of Riverkeeper's settlement, the Army Corps agreed to study using non-toxic oils and implement an oil accountability program to track oil spills. As a result, the Army Corps has started to use more non-toxic oils at dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers.
"The Corps is evaluating and testing the use of environmentally acceptable lubricants at the dams," said Saxon. "We'll continue refining these procedures because our goal is not to spill any oil."
The recent leak is not the first time oil has spilled from the Lower Monumental Dam. In 2017, over 700 gallons of oil leaked into the Snake River over a span of seven months.
Oil Spills into Snake River at Lower Monumental Dam by Staff, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, 1/12/18
742 Gallons of Oil Dripped into Snake River near Kahlotus by Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald, 8/9/17
Corps Confirms Oil Leak at 810-MW Lower Monumental Hydro by Elizabeth Ingram, HydroWorld, 8/9/17
Corps: Oil Leaked from Dam into Snake River Over 7 Months by Associated Press, U.S. News & World Reports, 8/9/17
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