Last month, the EPA ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop oil and other toxic chemical discharges into the Columbia River.  The announcement put the issue of river spills back to the front burner.  The group Columbia Riverkeeper sued the Corps last year, and says these pollutants harm fish and other wildlife in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  Miles Johnson, Columbia Riverkeeper senior attorney, said the permits address four dams along the river that are pollution sources.  And the problem he said is bigger than petroleum and chemical pollution.


"In addition, the dams create big reservoirs that soak up the sun’s energy and make the river too hot for salmon and Steelhead.  The permits that EPA issued to the Army Corps are a directive to deal with some of those problems."


Johnson said the issue was highlighted again recently when between 300 and 600 gallons of oil leaked into the Snake River from a turbine at Little Goose dam.  He said this type of pollution has become a pattern with the Corps and has to be monitored and addressed.


"Sometimes it's one gallon, sometimes it's five gallons, sometimes it’s hundreds of gallons or even thousands of gallons.  And sometimes that oil contains toxic chemicals like PCBs.  And after watching it happen over and over again, Columbia Riverkeeper took action, which is what we do when someone illegally discharges pollution into the river."


The EPA used the Clean Water Act to take its recent action.  In operating the dams, the Corps will be required to use environmentally friendly lubricants, pay closer attention to water temperatures in those reservoirs and remove water from some if they get too hot for the fish to survive.


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