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Herbicide Spill Kills Fish Near the Dalles

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 1, 2000

A truck driver asleep at the wheel crashed into the center divider Aug. 24 and dropped about 2,800 gallons of herbicide into Fifteenmile Creek just east of The Dalles. The spill killed about 1,500 fish and nearly all other life in a 600-yard section of the creek, and created a mess that will take crews two more weeks to clean up.

Many of the fish were juvenile Pacific lamprey and some adults, as well as carp and some steelhead smolts, according to Steve Pribyl of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The creek flows into the Columbia River adjacent to The Dalles Dam powerhouse on the Oregon side of the river.

Crews have constructed a coffer dam at the creek's mouth to prevent as much as possible the herbicide oxyfluorfen, commonly known as Goal, from traveling into the Columbia River and causing further damage. It is unknown how much of the toxic substance had escaped into the river during the early hours of the spill.

"The substance is very toxic to fish in small amounts," said Scott Bettin, of the Bonneville Power Administration, at this week's Technical Management Team meeting. "Four parts per billion kills fish."

He said the chemical was carried in containers and some broke open when the truck overturned and burned on the freeway 40 feet above the creek.

"We believe very little got into the Columbia because its heavier than water so it mostly settled out in the pools," Bettin said.

Bettin said the effected section of creek was isolated by a sandbag dam upstream and the coffer dam at the mouth in order to aid clean-up. Untainted water from the upstream dam is diverted through two eight-inch pipes around the spill area to the Columbia River while the clean-up proceeds.

A clean-up team, led by Foss Environmental, is sucking water and sediment out of the contaminated section. The water is cleaned and returned to the river and the sediment is being shipped to Arlington, Ore. for toxic disposal.

"The crews are taking the sediment to bedrock in the stream and power washing the creek bed," Bettin said. He added that the herbicide breaks down quickly in sunlight.

Bettin worried that the two pipes may not be enough as upstream irrigation begins to drop off as cooler and wetter weather is predicted for the Labor Day weekend. In addition, the lower dam that separates the creek's mouth from the Columbia River is in the process of being raised to accommodate higher Bonneville pool elevations.

The spill is already affecting the elevation of the Bonneville reservoir, which had to be lowered about 1-1/2 feet last week in order to keep water from backing up into the creek and flooding the clean-up operations. The pool level, which is between elevations 73.5 feet and 75 feet, is 1-1/2 feet lower than that asked for by tribes. The tribes began fall fishing operations last week and plan to continue fishing for at least one more week. The elevation level, however, is not seriously affecting the fishing at this time, according to Kyle Martin, of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission..

"If given the choice between full or stable pool levels, the tribes would prefer stable pool levels given the situation," said Martin.

Fifteenmile Creek is one of the secondary streams designated by the Oregon Legislature in House Bill 3609 that will be subject of joint ODFW and tribal river basin planning that could include supplementation as a way to rebuild salmon and steelhead runs (see CBB 12/10/99 and 12/17/99). The top five streams in priority are the Grande Ronde, Imnaha, Hood River, Walla Walla and Umatilla rivers. The John Day River, the Deschutes River and Fifteenmile Creek were listed as secondary streams for the basin planning.

The truck was owned by Prime Inc. of Springfield, Mo., which will be responsible for clean-up costs.

by Staff
Herbicide Spill Kills Fish Near the Dalles
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 1, 2000

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