Regulator: Vancouver sewage spill impact minimal

Volume of water in Columbia River quickly diluted contamination, state official says

By Katy Sword, Columbian staff writer

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Raw sewage that flowed freely into the Columbia River will likely have minimal environmental impact, a state official said Thursday.

Due to the flow of the Columbia River, the 400,000 gallons of sewage — which contained feces, urine and laundry waste — was quickly diluted.

Vancouver accidentally discharged raw sewage into the Columbia River Saturday due to a stream of power surges that rendered the Westside Wastewater treatment facility’s backup generators inoperable. Residents weren’t notified of the release, however, until four days later because city staff neglected to inform the city’s public information officer of the incident.

Although raw sewage has the potential to sicken humans and animals, any potential danger had already passed.

“Probably the most immediate environmental impact is what is in the sewage, what that’s going to do to increase nutrients in the Columbia River,” said David Bennett, communications manager for the Washington Department of Ecology. “While that is not going to have a lot of immediate effects, down the road it may.”

The sewage should not pose a threat to aquatic life because it mixed quickly with the river’s waters, Bennett said. The mixing area is also away from the shore and near the bottom of the river, so human contact was likely limited.

The city could potentially face a fine, however for the unpermitted, accidental release.

“Any time a facility like this is out of compliance, even in an instance like this where it was apparently of no fault of their own, there’s always a possibly for a fine,” Bennett said.

The Department of Ecology serves as the state’s environmental protection watchdog and issues fines for compliance violations.

“But right now our priority is working with the city and the company that manages the wastewater facility to get them back in full compliance,” he said. “They’re already taking steps to do that.”

Katy Sword: 360-735-4534; katy.sword@columbian.com. Twitter: twitter.com/katysword