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Bonneville Dam powerhouse shut down after oil spill discovered

Dam
Credit: Photo by Nicole Geri on Unsplash

On July 13, while performing weekly inspections, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland District (Corps) discovered a turbine thrust bearing at its 1,050-MW Bonneville Dam project had leaked 100 gallons of oil into the Columbia River.

The Corps has stopped the leak and is in the process of repairing the equipment. Corps officials notified partner agencies, including the National Response Center, Oregon and Washington emergency management offices and the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.

During the inspections, Corps technicians suspected the system was leaking, removed it from service and initiated spill prevention protocols. The generating unit will remain out of service and isolated until technicians complete the repair.

Spill prevention at the Bonneville facility is key, as the project is part of a water management system that provides flood risk management, power generation, water quality improvement, irrigation and fish and wildlife habitat.

Kevin Brice, deputy district engineer, explained how operators take action when issues are discovered. “Dam operators immediately begin spill cleanup and remediation procedures while technicians work to identify and repair the source of the issue; all of this takes place in very short order,” he said. “After an oil spill, we review our processes and procedures to address areas for improvement, training opportunities, and reporting needs.”

Bonneville Dam, located in Oregon, was the first federal lock and dam on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The first 660-MW powerhouse was completed in 1938 to improve navigation on the Columbia River and provide hydropower to the Pacific Northwest. The second powerhouse, and a larger navigation lock, followed. The project currently generates enough electricity to power about 900,000 homes in Oregon.