Reclamation agrees to apply for Clean Water Act permit for Grand Coulee Dam

The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation will apply for a Clean Water Act Section 402 permit for its Grand Coulee Dam as part of a proposed settlement agreement with Columbia Riverkeepers.

According to information HydroWorld received after an inquiry to the U.S. Department of Justice, Columbia Riverkeeper alleged in its claim (filed in 2016) that Reclamation is operating Grand Coulee Dam in violation of CWA section 301, 33 U.S.C. § 1311. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges the dam is discharging oil, grease and other pollutants into the Columbia River in northeastern Washington without a permit required under CWA section 402, 33 U.S.C. § 1342.

The proposed settlement agreement requires Reclamation to apply for a CWA section 402 permit, provide certain notifications to Columbia Riverkeeper, and undertake several measures to reduce or account for potential pollution from the dam:

  • Within 18 months, assess whether it is feasible to switch from using dam components that require lubrication to using non-lubricated components, as well as switch from using current lubricants to using “environmentally acceptable lubricants” on certain equipment
  • Prepare a report that addresses both the feasibility of those changes and, if it would be feasible to make the changes within five years during regularly scheduled maintenance, prepared a projected schedule for completing the changes. Factors taken into consideration would include facility operational requirements, cost of conversion, risk of potential damage to the equipment, and maintenance and outage schedules

ABC News reported that the agreement was reached Jan. 19 and the settlement was filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane.

Grand Coulee Dam impounds water for three hydroelectric power plants with a total capacity of 6,809 MW. It is the largest power plant in the U.S. and among the 10 largest power plants in the world by capacity.

For context, Justice says “This proposed settlement comes after a 2014 settlement reached with Columbia Riverkeeper regarding similar allegations in connection with eight dams that the Corps of Engineers operates on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Washington and Oregon.”

Reclamation owns 53 hydroelectric power plants and is the largest wholesaler of water in the U.S.

In other Reclamation news, on Jan. 20 David Murillo was named acting commissioner, serving until President Donald Trump nominates a commissioner and the Senate confirms that nominee. Murillo formerly was regional director of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region since December 2012 and has been with Reclamation since 2000.

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