File photo of a group touring  Grand Coulee Dam. Tribes and power planners are considering restoring salmon to the Upper Columbia Basin above the dam.

File photo of a group touring  Grand Coulee Dam. Tribes and power planners are considering restoring salmon to the Upper Columbia Basin above the dam.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper is suing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over oil spills from Grand Coulee Dam.

The group already sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over water pollution coming from eight other dams in the Columbia River Basin.

The Corps settled that suit, agreeing to reduce spills from dams including Bonneville, The Dalles and McNary and start testing eco-friendly oil.

Now, the group is going after the biggest dam in the Northwest.

Brett VandenHeuvel, director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said the federal government has largely ignored the problem of dams polluting rivers.

“They’re like giant factories in the middle of the river,” he said. “The turbines, the spillways and all the moving parts spill oil into the river.”

VandenHeuvel said Grand Coulee Dam uses well over a million gallons of oil. But the federal government has given itself a free pass when some of that oil leaks and spills – even though it’s a violation of the Clean Water Act, he said.

“There’s nothing special about dams that allow them to pollute without a permit under the Clean Water Act,” he said. “There is no loophole. It’s been mostly a lack of oversight and a lack of accountability for the federal government.”

VandenHeuvel says he’s hoping the Bureau of Reclamation will settle the suit as the Corps did and start using oil that won’t harm fish and wildlife when it inevitably leaks and spills.

The lawsuit calls for the agency to get a pollution permit, disclose how much oil the dam is releasing and reduce that amount.

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation says the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.