WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1) and Congressman Peter DeFazio (OR-4) announced that the Columbia River Restoration Act has passed in the House and the Senate as part of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The legislation will now be sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
“Nobody wants to worry that the water they are drinking or fishing in or swimming in is tainted, but 8 million inhabitants of the Columbia River Basin have had their health, safety and environment endangered by toxins in the river. Now Congress is finally doing something about it,” said Merkley. “This bill will provide a much needed boost to the health and economy of our beloved Columbia River.”
“Pacific Northwesterners count on the Columbia River as a vital economic resource and environmental treasure,” Wyden said. “Preserving and protecting the river is a must to ensure the river remains the clean and healthy lifeblood of our region.”
“This is a significant win for our efforts to reduce pollution and improve the water quality of the Columbia River,” said Blumenauer. “We have a responsibility to protect this critical resource, and we’ll keep pushing to help restore this iconic river system.”
“The Columbia River is a powerful economic force in Oregon,” said Congresswoman Bonamici. “The river carries goods to market, serves as a valuable source of energy, and provides salmon to tribal populations and others. We must reduce pollution and contamination of this critical resource. I am pleased the Columbia River Basin Restoration Act has passed Congress and is on its way to the President’s desk.”
“The Columbia River is one of the most bountiful natural resources in Oregon, providing cultural, economic, and ecological benefits to many states,” said Representative DeFazio, Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a lead negotiator on the bill. “Rising levels of toxins in the Columbia River Basin threaten Oregon’s salmon and the livelihood of tribal communities and other Oregonians. I was proud to play a major role in securing this new program that will fund Columbia River restoration projects to improve water quality and reduce pollution.”
The legislation would authorize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish a voluntary, competitive Columbia Basin grants program for projects that assist in eliminating or reducing pollution, cleaning up contaminated sites, improving water quality, monitoring the basin, and promoting citizen engagement.
Toxins are present throughout the Columbia Basin, and are harmful to humans, fish, and wildlife. These contaminants make their way into fish tissue and can be dangerous to humans if consumed. Some of these toxins are known to cause cancer and have been linked with neurological, developmental, and reproductive problems, including birth defects and learning disabilities.
The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest, and the only large aquatic ecosystem in the United States that currently receives no dedicated funding to clean up and monitor toxic chemicals. It is 1,243 miles long and its drainage basin extends into seven states. Approximately eight million people inhabit the Basin, including members of several Tribal nations and angling groups who frequently fish in its waters. Historically, the Columbia and its tributaries have constituted the largest salmon-producing river system in the world, with annual returns peaking at 16 million fish.
The Columbia River Restoration Act is supported by a diverse group of stakeholders including the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, and Salmon-Safe.