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Columbia Riverkeeper Sues Over
Pollution in Columbia River System

by Kendall Heebink
Law Street, December 9, 2021

Columnaris lesions mar the gills of a sockeye salmon that was moving up the Columbia River in July 2015. Columbia Riverkeeper has filed suit against the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and their commanding general and chief of engineers, Lieutenant General Scott A. Spellmon, on Wednesday in the District of Oregon Pendleton Division. The complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief alleges that the defendants have violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) by discharging pollutants into the Columbia River without a required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

The Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, aims to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters" by prohibiting pollutant discharge without a proper permit. The Columbia River system is under constant threat from pollution. This was best demonstrated in 2015, when 55% of the salmon migrating through the river died due to the rising water temperature. Regular pollution of the Columbia River also "threatens the health of people that eat resident fish and jeopardizes the public’s right to eat fish caught locally."

A similar suit over illegal discharges and CWA violations was filed by the plaintiff against the defendant in 2013. That suit was resolved with a settlement agreement where the USACE "agreed to apply for the necessary permits and take other actions to reduce its water quality impacts." Columbia Riverkeeper agreed to refrain from pursuing further litigation against the defendant for seven years in order to "allow time for the permitting process."

Despite the 2014 agreement, the defendants have continually discharged pollutants such as heated cooling water, oils, and greases into the John Day and McNary Dam without an NPDES permit. Each dam feeds directly into the Columbia River system. Since the USACE owns and operates the hydroelectric dams that are contributing to the pollution, the plaintiff believes their actions constitute a violation of the Clean Water Act.

Columbia Riverkeeper believes that the CWA violations are either "continuing or reasonably likely to reoccur." As a result, they are seeking favorable declaratory judgement of the violation, an injunction preventing further violation and requiring remediation of the environmental harm done, litigation expenses, and other relief.

The plaintiff is represented by Kampmeier & Knutsen.

Kendall Heebink
Columbia Riverkeeper Sues Over Pollution in Columbia River System
Law Street, December 9, 2021

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