The Columbia River, and the communities who depend on it, face serious threats from toxic pollution. Everyday thousands of pipes buried under and along the Columbia River discharge hundreds of pounds of toxic pollution from cities, industry, and dirty stormwater run-off. Pesticides and heavy metals also enter the river from non-point source pollution, such as runoff from agricultural lands and air deposition.
That’s where Riverkeeper comes in. We are focused on achieving measurable reductions in toxic pollution in the fish and wildlife—and in turn people—of the mighty Columbia. We’re working to address all levels of the problem:
- supporting scientific studies to understand how toxics are impacting the Columbia’s fish and wildlife
- fighting for new laws that limit toxic pollution
- holding illegal polluters accountable for threatening public health and fish.
Our Work to Reduce Toxic Pollution
Toxic-Free Fish Campaign. Riverkeeper’s Toxic-Free Fish Campaign is working for accurate, protective toxic pollution limits—referred to as water quality standards—to reduce cancer-causing pollution in the Columbia. Riverkeeper was an important part of Oregon’s landmark 2011 decision to adopt the nation’s most protective standards, which followed years of tremendous leadership by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Now we are working to bring similar changes to Washington’s toxics water quality standards.
Polluted Runoff. When it rains, water rushes across industrial areas, capturing pollutants such as lead, zinc, and oils. The polluted stormwater is typically discharged directly to the Columbia River and its tributaries without any treatment. To address pollution from thousands of industrial facilities along the Columbia, Riverkeeper plays an active role in the public input process for Oregon and Washington’s industrial stormwater pollution permits—in some cases challenging the permits in court if they violate clean water laws
Toxic Energy Projects. Riverkeeper has successfully fought new coal-fired power plants along the Columbia River and worked to reduce pollution, and eventually shutdown, of Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant, PGE Boardman. Riverkeeper is also working to protect the Columbia from proposals to export coal to Asia from Columbia River Ports supplied by coal trains through out towns.
Legacy Pollution Sites. Riverkeeper works with effected communities to provide technical and legal assistance on the complicated cleanup processes at legacy pollution sites along the Columbia, including former aluminum smelters and World War II era military sites.
Strengthening Pollution Permits: Hundreds of facilities dump millions of gallons of pollutants into the Columbia every year. Some of that pollution is illegal, but Oregon and Washington actually allow some of this pollution through Clean Water Act permits. Many of those permits are badly outdated or contain standards that don’t actually protect the River or river users. Riverkeeper’s legal team reviews these permits and advocates for more stringent restrictions on pollution discharged to the Columbia. In January 2014, Riverkeeper submitted comments to the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) asking them to reduce pollution from Weyerhaeuser’s Longview, Washington, mill to protect endangered salmon and steelhead, as well as the people who eat locally-caught fish; Ecology is currently deciding whether to ratchet back on the amount of pollution from this mill or continue the toxic status quo.
Penalties for Toxic Pollution: The Columbia River is at risk from spills of oil and other toxic pollutants. Strong penalties for spills and other violations deter would-be polluters from risky behavior that could cause a spill, and also ensure that state agencies have enough money to respond when spills occur. In September 2013, Riverkeeper participated in an advisory committee and commented to the Oregon DEQ in support of increasing penalties for oil spills and other serious environmental violations. Strong penalties for oil spills are especially important in light of the proposed coal and crude oil shipping projects threatening the Columbia River.