Select Page

SOURCE: Seattle Times

DATE: August 28, 2020

SNIP: In black waves, drifts and bands, crumbs of rubber [Ed Note: actually, plastic] are polluting miles of the Puyallup River after a spill at a dam project last month.

Rubber [plastic] debris already is likely more than 40 miles downriver in Puget Sound. The pollution is the result of unpermitted use of thousands of yards of artificial turf by the dam’s owners while reconstructing parts of the dam.

The Puyallup Tribe was first alerted to the spill by a social media post put up July 31 by Derek Van Giesen, a former employee of Electron Hydro, an owner of the dam. He walked off the job over the installation of the turf liner and a large fish kill at the dam that took place the same day of the spill, which occurred overnight on July 29.

Van Giesen said the turf came from a pile stored on the property of a neighboring rock quarry. The pile is at least one story high and as long as a football field.

From the stop order: “The use of astro-turf in a river system where it can break down and discharge potential toxins into the water is not considered a suitable material.”

The question now is how to clean up the mess, just weeks before adult chinook salmon listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act are expected to arrive on their homeward journey.

According to the consultant’s report, the company, as part of its work on a bypass channel at the dam placed 2,409 square yards of artificial FieldTurf on the channel between July 20 and 27. The turf was intended to function as an underlayment for a plastic liner put on top of it. The company then diverted the river into the bypass channel, to create a dry area to continue its ongoing work at its dam.

The night of July 29, the diverted river — well known for its rock-chucking high flows — ripped pieces of the liner and turf loose, sending hunks of artificial turf and a torrent of loose black crumb rubber downriver.

At least 4 to 6 cubic yards of crumb rubber [i.e. plastic] — each piece about the size of a fat coffee ground — was released to the river, in the pristine upper reaches of the Puyallup, about 6 miles from the boundary with Mount Rainier National Park.

The consultant estimated the rate of travel in the water at 2 mph. The rubber probably reached Orting within nine hours, and Tacoma and Commencement Bay within 20 hours. The river would have deposited crumb rubber all along the way, a distance of some 40 miles, in channel margins, in deep pools, in coves and river bends, and continued redistributing it ever since.

Everywhere he looked for it along the river, Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the Puyallup Tribe, saw crumbs of black rubber. Immediately downstream of the dam, it lay in streaks of black on the beach. Fourteen miles down river, there it was again, in black nubby necklaces around rocks, in bands along the shore, in heaps on the river’s sandy bank.

The dam, formerly owned by Puget Sound Energy, is 116 years old and produces electricity for about 20,000 homes. Reconstruction at the dam is intended, along with screens and other equipment, to prevent fish and sediment from entering the flume, used to deliver water for the project.

WDFW reported a fish kill on the river the same day, as Electron Hydro dewatered a stretch of the river during routine maintenance at its dam, causing what the department described as “a large fish kill, resulting in the loss of ESA-listed species, including Chinook, and bull trout, along with coho, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and sculpin.”

Historically the river supported as many as 42,000 chinook. The run is greatly diminished today to a little over 1,000 fish and was listed for protection in 1999 under the ESA.