Corps Cited for Spills on Rivers

Tuesday, May 18, 2004
More than 33 oil spills from nine dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers have prompted the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) to take enforcement action against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Ecology issued a notice of violation today that lists the state oil spill and clean-water laws that have been violated. It also cites the Corps for insufficiently training and preparing staff to respond to oil spills, and it describes the potential that exists for further spills from the nine hydropower dams the Corps operates on the river system.

Spills were reported for the following dams from 1999 to 2004: Bonneville, The Dalles, John Day, Chief Joseph, McNary, Lower Monumental, Ice Harbor, Little Goose and Lower Granite. The oil came from equipment in the dams, such as turbines, lubricating and hydraulic systems, and transformers.

According to the notice of violation, the dams 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.

In addition, Ecology is concerned about the inadequate staging of spill response equipment and how the Corps accounts for the amount of oil currently stored.

The Corps has recently accepted an offer from Ecology to assist with spill-response planning and preparedness.

"We are pleased that the Corps has agreed to obtain training in the incident command system and to modify its emergency response plans," said Dale Jensen, who manages Ecology's spills program. "We are willing to work with the Corps to design drills that address the potential situations faced at the dams and in these particular rivers."

Jensen stressed that preventing spills in the first place is extremely important. In addition, spill-response training is necessary for all operation and maintenance crews, and response equipment needs to be readily available.

"Oregon shares Washington's concerns about the Corps' operations on the Columbia, and we have additional concerns about Corps dams located in Oregon," said Chuck Donaldson, who manages the emergency response program at the Department of Environmental Quality. "Like Washington, Oregon may have to examine other methods to ensure compliance with state and federal laws."

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