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Report says
Dalles Dam Oil Spill Preventable

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - February 13, 2004

An independent review panel has concluded maintenance and inspection procedures, and the condition of old equipment contributed to a recent mineral oil spill at The Dalles Dam, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said this week.

The Jan. 15 spill resulted in about 2,500 gallons of mineral oil leaking from an aged transformer, with 1,300 gallons of the leaked oil spilling into the Columbia River downstream of the dam. Contract environmental cleanup crews have recovered about 1,317 gallons of the leaked oil.

"This analysis tells me our crews must be more diligent with their maintenance responsibilities," said Debby Chenoweth, chief of operations for the Corps' Portland District. "I have called for a full review of our processes and maintenance activities at all our dams. Preventable spills are not acceptable."

The panelists commented that the transformer's water-based cooling system should have been drained when the transformer was taken out of service in October 2003. The leak was caused by a frozen water pipe that cracked, due in part to the freezing weather the region experienced in early to mid January.

After receiving the report, Chenoweth outlined how she will address the findings and recommendations provided by the panel.

Chenoweth said she is looking at maintenance procedures for all of the Corps' 20 dams in Oregon to identify "best practices" for maintaining industrial equipment. Those practices will then become the standard for maintaining equipment and machinery at the various facilities.

"The spill itself caused me to ask our maintenance crews to review the safety and reliability of our facilities, and to ask our facility managers to begin collecting information about the products we use and about our maintenance, inspection and response processes," Chenoweth said. "This report tells me we need to do more as an agency to set minimum standards for our maintenance activities."

The report was prepared by: Mitchell Samuelian, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Denver, Colo.; Gary Sanford, Bonneville Power Administration, Portland, Ore.; and Jim Blankenship, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Glen Canyon Dam, Calif. (retired). All have backgrounds in power plant operations and maintenance. Blankenship has experience in environmental compliance.

Local, state and federal agencies worked to contain and recover the spilled mineral oil. State biologists have not identified any injured or oils birds or wildlife. About 185 dead shad were found near the location of the spill. A toxicology report is pending to determine the cause of death.

The oil contained trace amounts of polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs. Independent test results show the concentration of PCBs is 8 parts per million (ppm), a level the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is non-hazardous.

A copy of the panel's report, as well as Chenoweth's action plan, is available on the Internet at

CBB Staff
Report says Dalles Dam Oil Spill Preventable
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 13, 2004

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