Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

The Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River, seen from 3000 feet. (Credit: flickr/cc/Eric Prado)

Win for Clean Water as Polluting Dams Forced Into Accountability

Settlement reached between US Army Corps of Engineers and Columbia Riverkeeper over 8 dams in Pacific Northwest will bring 'end to toxic spills and chronic seepage of pollutants.'

In a groundbreaking settlement (pdf) reached on Monday in a response to a suit brought by Columbia Riverkeeper, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to finally be subject to federal oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency and to disclose the details of the pollutants it releases into two rivers in the Pacific Northwest.

“This is a huge day for clean water,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper’s executive director. “For years, the dams have discharged harmful oil pollution into the Columbia and Snake rivers, and finally that will stop. With the dams coming into compliance with the Clean Water Act, hopefully we will see an end to toxic spills and chronic seepage of pollutants that have been harming our community.”

The settlement could potentially impact how federal oversight of Army Corps dams is performed nationwide.

“Columbia Riverkeeper’s settlement has implications for dams operating without pollution permits across the country,” stated Melissa Powers, environmental law professor at Lewis and Clark Law School and expert in the federal Clean Water Act.  “Like any industrial facility, dams are prohibited from discharging pollution until they obtain pollution permits.”

While the Corps was already required to report spills that occurred, before the ruling it was not required to track the amount of oil going into the water as part of its regular operations, nor did it give information to outside groups concerning how much oil was generally going into the water.

The Corps had previously claimed in letters to state agencies that the EPA did not have the authority to regulate it.

According to the AP "the EPA had the authority to regulate the dams' pollution before the settlement, but it could not compel the Corps to file for a pollution permit."

Now the Corps will regularly notify Columbia Riverkeeper concerning daily discharges from a total of eight dams into both the Snake River and the Columbia River, and is required to apply for EPA pollution permits within the year. The settlement will also "require the Corps to use environmentally-friendly oils, such as biodegradable oils, if it's feasible," according to VandenHeuvel.

In 2009 the EPA found a number of harmful toxins in fish in the Columbia River, most notably PCBs, a potentially carcinogenic synthetic that was banned from production in the U.S. in 1979.

The Army Corps of Engineers is the largest owner-operator of dams in the country.

Riverkeeper's VandenHeuvel explains the importance of the victory in the video below:


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Median Pay of Top CEOs Hits Record $14.7 Million as Workers Strike Over Starvation Wages

"While most of America struggles to put gas in the tank and pay the grocery bills, price-gouging, excessive-profit-taking CEOs used their captive boards to award themselves record pay," said one expert.

Jake Johnson ·


Sanders: Manchin and Sinema 'Sabotaged' Biden Agenda Because They Lack 'Guts'

"Why don't you have the guts to take on the drug companies and the insurance companies and the fossil fuel industry?" the Vermont senator asked.

Jake Johnson ·


'Still on Track to Win This Primary,' Says John Fetterman After Stroke

"The good news is I’m feeling much better," said Pennsylvania's progressive Lt. Governor, frontrunner in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. "I'm well on my way to a full recovery."

Jon Queally ·


Buffalo Gunman's Racism Directly Tied to Mainstreaming of White Nationalism, Say Critics

"This hateful, white nationalist rhetoric is not just being spread by lone gunmen. It can also be found on cable news and in the rhetoric of politicians today."

Jon Queally ·


'It's a Fight They'll Get': Defenders of Abortion Rights March Nationwide

One speaker at the Ban Off Our Bodies rally in the nation's capital said that Saturday was just "day one of a 'Summer of Rage' where we will be ungovernable. Ungovernable!"

Jon Queally ·

Common Dreams Logo