Dam operator fined $ 501,000 for polluting Puyallup River with artificial turf and crumbling rubber
Steve Ringman / Seattle Times The Electron Dam on the White River with Mount Rainier in the background. The dam polluted Puget Sound with rubber and plastic debris from a recent renovation in which the old Astroturf was used as a coating for the project.
The Washington Department of Ecology fined Electron Hydro, LLC $ 501,000 for dumping dumped plastic sod into the Puyallup River last summer.
The company used the sod to cover a diversion channel as it diverted the flow of the river during a construction project.
Pieces of artificial turf were found up to 21 miles downstream. Deposits of crushed tire rubber – used as turf padding – are believed to have cascaded down to the mouth of the river and into Commencement Bay in Tacoma, 41 miles downstream, the Department said. ecology in a press release Tuesday.
Turf and its crumbled rubber are poisonous when ingested by fish and other aquatic organisms. The Puyallup is home to many endangered protected species: rainbow trout, bull trout, and chinook salmon, an essential food source for endangered southern resident killer whales.
Rubber in tires is particularly toxic to coho, causing pre-spawning mortality, scientists recently documented. Usually the source is indirect, from road runoff. But in this case, the rubber was crushed and deposited directly into the river.
“These toxic materials had no place in the river,” Ecology director Laura Watson said in the statement. “The force of the water tore the grass apart, carried it along the river and sent it straight up the food chain. This is an environmental tragedy that did not have to happen.
In addition to the fine, Ecology issued an administrative order to the company to address ongoing water quality violations related to Electron Hydro’s operations. The new requirements include the creation of a water quality management plan to deal with sediment, temperature and toxic substances.
The fine goes to the state’s Coastal Protection Fund, which provides grants to government agencies and tribes for water quality restoration projects. Electron Hydro can appeal the penalty, order, or both to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.
Chris Spens, director of regulatory and environmental affairs at Tollhouse Energy Company, which owns and operates the dam, said in an email that the company would appeal the fine and made no further comment.
Bill Sterud, president of the Puyallup Indian Tribe, said he was “happy that ecology is taking this issue seriously. I would like to say that I am happy, but I am wary.
“I guarantee that the Puyallup tribe will not hesitate for a single moment to take care of our fish. The barrage of electrons was just excruciating … it’s [about] more than the fish, it is our culture, it is our world, and they endanger this world by not taking care of the fish.
The bottom line for the tribe, Sterud said, is that the dam should be demolished.
“Our fish cannot speak for themselves. We have to speak up for our fish, ”he said.
Electron Hydro generates electricity by diverting water from the river near Orting in eastern Pierce County.
The water flows for 10 miles through an elevated channel then returns to the river through a power station.
The spill occurred when the company began construction to replace its diversion dam and intake structure, built in 1903. This work included the construction of a temporary diversion channel to divert the river from. the construction area.
The company chose to line the bypass channel with synthetic turf from a waste pile in a rock quarry not far from the site. The company did not have permission to use the turf in its project, from any agency.
The company has put over 2,400 square meters of sports turf under a pavement. The river moved the pavement and tore the sod the night after it was installed, sending about 617 square meters of sod and about 4-6 cubic meters of granulated rubber downstream.
Electron Hydro did not report this release to Ecology or other licensing agencies. A dam worker reported what he saw, first on social media and then to Ecology on July 30.
The company later informed Ecology that it had started cleaning the river and shoreline turf, and reported at the start of its cleanup that it had deposited 13,000 pounds in a landfill.
After large sections were ripped off in July, the remaining part of the pavement and sod at the construction site was left in place until the river was returned to its main channel on October 25. The rubber crumbs are still in the river, in deep pools all the way to Commencement Bay, according to Ecology.
“This was a completely preventable release,” Rich Doenges, Southwest Regional Director of Ecology, said in a telephone interview. “And it contained material that was toxic to fish. … There is no way to get it all out, so the impacts continue. “
The company also faces a number of lawsuits, including from several environmental groups, the US Department of Justice and the Puyallup Tribe. The lawsuits were filed in the US District Court in Western Washington against the owners of the dam.