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Economic and dam related articles

Corps Responds to
Washington State's Oil Spill Warning

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 25, 2004

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responded late last week to a notice of violation for spilling oil at dams that it had received in May from the Washington Department of Ecology.

The Corps has spilled oil 33 times since 1999 from turbines, lubricating and hydraulic systems, and transformers at nine Columbia and Snake river dams. Those include Bonneville, The Dalles, John Day, Chief Joseph, McNary, Lower Monumental, Ice Harbor, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams, where all the equipment that operates the locks and gates are hydraulically operated using oil, and where transformers are packed in oil for cooling.

The notice of violation said that the spills "pose a substantial risk to pollute the rivers because of the Corps' inability to detect leaks, drains from secondary containments that lead directly to the river, and staffing levels that at times limit the ability of operators to be vigilant in detecting oil leaks."

The Corps in its response indicated that it is making progress in meeting the state agency's concerns.

"I appreciate your concerns regarding oil spill prevention and practices at our Columbia and Snake River project(s) and I want to assure you that improving our spill protection and response capabilities is among my and my district commanders' highest priorities," wrote Karen L. Durhan-Aguilera, director of programs for the Corps' Northwestern Division.

She said the goal of both the Corps and Ecology is to protect and improve the quality of the region's environment and the Columbia and Snake River systems. "I believe this goal will be enhanced by our agencies working together in a spirit of cooperation," she said.

Regarding the Jan. 15, 2004, spill at The Dalles Dam, the Corps said of the total 5,500 gallons of oil spilled from transformers, 4,197 gallons was recovered before it left the dam. An additional 638 gallons was recovered from the river. Some was captured in the powerhouse roof rock, but the remainder is presumed to have escaped into the river.

The report also reveals that the Corps has few transformers that contain PCBs, a toxic ingredient that helps keep transformers cool. While there are no PCBs in transformers at Bonneville Dam, seven of the The Dalles transformers contain low levels of PCBs as do two of 23 transformers at John Day Dam, seven transformers at McNary Dam and some equipment at Ice Harbor Dam.

One way to keep spills from reaching the river is the use of secondary containment with oil storage units and transformers and in areas where equipment is loaded and unloaded, according to Ecology. The Corps said that as a result of a preliminary survey, those facilities have either been repaired or are in the process of being repaired.

"Additionally, all the hydropower projects in the Portland, Seattle and Walla Walla Districts are participating in an agreement with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to have their Pollution Prevention and Abatement Group assess the adequacy of the spill prevention and response programs of our projects," the report said. It added that the results will result in a division-wide strategy to identify, prioritize and fix the problems.

One of the complaints by Ecology was whether the Corps' was prepared to handle spills when they occur. The Corps said that two of its response plans are currently under review. In addition, it said that when performing risky maintenance procedures at The Dalles Dam, crews must now pre-deploy booms that catch oil in the water prior to the maintenance. Also spill action plans now list 24-hour contact numbers of spill response contractors and the work and home phone numbers of key Corps personnel. Training is being provided to appropriate personnel, as well.

Related Sites:
Washington Department of Ecology:
Ecology's Spills Program:

CBB Staff
Corps Responds to Washington State's Oil Spill Warning
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 25, 2004

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