The city of Vancouver, Washington, was fined $60,000 by the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) for spilling 600,000 gallons of raw or under-treated sewage into the Columbia River in 2017. The spills occurred on two occasions, the first being after a power outage at West Side Wastewater Treatment Plant. The treatment system shut down, spilling over 500,000 gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into the river. Only one of three backup generators turned on —not enough power to operate the emergency overflow system.
The second spill occurred when controls were improperly set during an equipment calibration, causing several large pumps to shut down. An emergency overflow system diverted wastewater into the river for 15 minutes before the problem was corrected.
Ecology is fining the city for the spilled sewage and for failure to follow required procedures for calibration. “Unacceptable training, maintenance and operations led to preventable discharges of raw sewage,” said Heather Bartlett, who manages Ecology’s Water Quality Program. “That put bacteria and other pathogens that can cause diseases into the river, along with solids and trash that treatment normally removes. The river’s powerful flow may dilute the discharge, but it also spreads the pollution farther.”
The health departments were notified and temporary warnings to avoid contact with the river issued. During the second spill, Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife department officials considered cancelling the second of a two-day sturgeon opener but instead advised anglers to thoroughly wash fish from the river. The City stated that they are taking corrective action with increased staff training to prevent spills.
“We take our obligation to protect the environment very seriously,” said Brian Carlson, Director of Vancouver Public Works. “The discharges were unacceptable.”
The water quality penalty payments go directly to the state’s Coastal Protection Fund. The Fund issues grants to public agencies and tribes for projects involving water quality restoration.