Trouble at Dalles Dam Spills 200 gallons of Oil into Columbia River

Last week, a mechanical failure at Dalles Dam resulted in 200 gallons of oil entering the Columbia River. The 200 foot tall Dalles Dam spans the Columbia River nearly 200 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The dam provides hydropower, navigation, recreation, fish passage, irrigation, and flood mitigation for the Pacific Northwest.


According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a component for a turbine used to assist fish migration broke, leading to possibly 200 gallons of oil entering the river–officials are working on confirming the amount of oil.

“Our goal is to respond swiftly during oil spill responses,” said Dwane Watsek, Operations Division chief. “Our team at The Dalles took immediate actions to remove the unit from service and contain and clean up oil with booms and skimmers,” he said. “The unit will remain out of service and isolated from the river until technicians assess and repair it.”

“Oil spills from dams must stop. Shockingly, the Army Corps faces no penalties for fouling the Columbia River with toxic oil,” states Lauren Goldberg, Legal and Program Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “EPA—which has the authority to hold the Corps accountable—has ignored toxic oil pollution from federal dams for decades. It’s time to stop playing politics and protect clean water.”

The Columbia River dams have been the subject of countless disputes and heavily contributed to the declines in wild steelhead and salmon populations. The volume of spilled oil is significantly less than past spills. Regardless, this event was an unfortunate reminder that accidents happen and can have grave consequences for fish and wildlife.


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