Grant PUD named in lawsuit

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SPOKANE — Grant County PUD officials said they will continue with a plan to apply for a Clean Water Act discharge permit, despite a lawsuit filed by a Portland-based environmental group.

Columbia Riverkeeper filed suit March 26 in U.S. District Court in Spokane, saying that the PUD was in violation of the Clean Water Act. In addition to the utility, the lawsuit names the five PUD commissioners, Nelson Cox, Tom Flint, Dale Walker, Larry Schaapman and Judy Wilson.

Utility district officials said the PUD is meeting all its obligations, and is willing to work with – and has been trying to work with – Columbia Riverkeeper. But PUD officials said the utility can’t commit to take action in circumstances it doesn’t control.

The two sides had been talking, according to a PUD press release issued Tuesday. “The lawsuit follows months of intensive analysis, dialogue with Riverkeeper and commitment to avoid litigation and meet Riverkeeper’s demand that Grant PUD take all necessary actions to obtain the pollutant discharge permit.

“However, Grant PUD can’t agree to Riverkeeper’s insistence that the Washington Department of Ecology take final action on this permit application within a four-year period. That is out of Grant PUD’s control.”

The suit alleges that “the PUD discharges oils, greases, lubricants and other pollutants” at its two hydroelectric projects, Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams. The lawsuit charges that “the PUD’s violations were avoidable had the PUD been diligent in overseeing facility operations and maintenance and regulatory compliance.”

The PUD hasn’t yet filed a reply. However, “the Department of Ecology has previously certified that operation of Grant PUD’s dams complies with state and federal water quality standards under the Clean Water Act,” the press release said.

Utility district officials listed actions the PUD has taken as part of its negotiations with Riverkeeper. The PUD plans to apply for a Clean Water Act permit, “the primary impetus of the Riverkeeper suit,” the press release said. Utility district officials also are working to find and test more environmentally-friendly lubricants, and use them where feasible, the press release said. The PUD also agreed to prepare a yearly report on the materials delivered to the two hydroelectric facilities. “The reports would track oil use to help identify leaks that may otherwise go unnoticed.”

Utility district officials plan to apply for the CWA permit by May 31, “even if Grant PUD has not reached a settlement with Riverkeeper.”

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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