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$501,000 fine against dam operator for polluting Puyallup River is only a start, tribe says

Electron Hydro is facing a $501,000 fine from the state Department of Ecology – plus new requirements for monitoring water quality near its dam on the Puyallup River.

That’s after the company illegally discharged used artificial turf and its crumb rubber padding into the Puyallup River last summer. Ecology says pieces of the turf were discovered up to 21 miles downstream of the dam and believed to extend twice as far -- into Commencement Bay.

The agency’s southwest regional director Rich Doenges says the company let this discharge go on for 92 days.

You know, this is an entirely preventable release by Electron Hydro, and it really is a toxic compound," Doenges said. "And it's unfortunate that the release of this material went into a river that supports several species of salmon and released a compound that is known to be toxic to Coho especially. And Ecology's taking action to ensure that doesn't happen again." 

He says if it does happen again, the fines will escalate.

Electron Hydro says it will file an appeal.

Last summer, the company started construction to replace its diversion dam and water intake structure, built in 1903. But the unpermitted use of artificial turf in the riverbed at the site in east Pierce County resulted in the release of large amounts of crumb rubber and other pollutants into the Puyallup River. It was reported by a whistleblower.

The Puyallup Tribe says the state’s half-million dollar fine against Electron Hydro is a step in the right direction, but just a start.

As recently as last month, tribal scientists were still finding remnants – some as large as 8-by-4 feet.

“This is an ongoing problem. The turf and the crumb rubber are still there,” says Lisa Anderson.

She's an environmental attorney for the tribe. She says the state's fines and new requirements to monitor the water quality are significant. But they’re just one part of a very large and complex enforcement puzzle.

“Five-hundred thousand dollars doesn't begin to assess any sort of value that the fishery provides and that fish provide to the tribe, its members and as a part of its culture from time immemorial,” she says.

Several lawsuits are underway, including one from the EPA. The tribe says its ultimate goal is still dam removal.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to