Dam operator fined $501K for polluting Puyallup River

The Washington Department of Ecology has fined dam operator Electron Hydro, LLC, $501,000 for discharging discarded plastic field turf into the Puyallup River.

Pieces of the artificial turf were found up to 21 miles downstream while deposits of ground-up tire rubber are believed to have entered into Commencement Bay in Tacoma, 41 miles downstream, Ecology said in a Tuesday news release.

The turf and its crumb rubber material are toxic when ingested by fish and other aquatic life. The Puyallup is home to protected endangered species including steelhead, bull trout and Chinook, a critical food source for endangered southern resident orcas, The Seattle Times reported.

"The force of the water tore the turf apart, washed it down river, and sent it right into the food web," said Ecology Director Laura Watson in the news release. "This is an environmental tragedy that didn’t have to happen."

RELATED: U.S. Justice Department sues over Puyallup River pollution

Electron Hydro produces electricity by diverting water from the river near Orting. The spill happened when the company started construction to replace its diversion dam and water intake structure, built-in 1903.

Ecology also issued an administrative order to the company to address ongoing water quality violations. The fine is paid into the state’s Coastal Protection Fund, which provides grants to public agencies and tribes for water quality restoration projects.

Chris Spens, director of regulatory and environmental affairs for Tollhouse Energy Company, which owns and runs the dam, said in an email that the company will appeal the fine.

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