Washington Dam Owner, Exec Face 36 Charges in Connection With Pollution of Puyallup River

36 criminal charges have been filed in Washington's Pierce County Superior Court against Electron Hydro and its chief operating officer Thom Fischer over alleged pollution the company caused to the Puyallup River during a 2020 construction project.

The dozens of gross misdemeanor charges include violations of the state Water Pollution Control Act, the Shoreline Management Act and Pierce County Code, according to The Seattle Times.

In the summer of 2020, the company began a construction project to update the hydroelectric dam that is over 100 years old, using unauthorized artificial FieldTurf that had been discarded by a quarry in the area.

The artificial rubber material was to be used as underlining for a plastic liner that was being placed under a temporary bypass channel in the river, the Times reported.

The turf, containing a reported 16 to 18 cubic yards of crumb rubber was used without permission, and the river demolished the liner and turf, sending about four to six cubic yards of the rubber into the river, according to the Times.

The water and rubber were tested, and the rubber was found to include a chemical found in tires that has been proven to be "extremely toxic" to fish, including coho salmon, one of the types of fish that live in the river.

Puyallup River Washington Electron Hydro Water Pollution
Charges have been filed against the owners of a dam along the river, alleging that its construction project in summer 2020 polluted the river with chemicals toxic to fish. Above, a freight train makes its way across a trestle above a Puyallup River swollen by record rain January 8, 2009, in Tacoma, Washington. Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Washington Attorney General Robert Ferguson filed the 36 gross misdemeanor charges Monday in Pierce County Superior Court, The Seattle Times reported.

If convicted, Fischer faces a maximum penalty of 90 or 364 days in jail for each count, depending on the charge, and fines of up to $1,000 to $10,000 for each count, depending on the charge. Electron Hydro as a business entity faces a maximum penalty of $250,000 for each of the 36 counts.

The dam's owners have stated they will oppose any effort to remove the dam, which previously provided electricity to about 20,000 customers. Fischer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Testing by the University of Washington-Tacoma Center for Urban Waters revealed samples of recovered turf and crumb rubber contained chemicals found in tires.

The dam is approximately 23 miles (37 kilometers) southeast of Tacoma in Pierce County. The Puyallup River the dam is built on is home to Chinook, coho, chum, pink and sockeye salmon, as well as steelhead and bull trout.

Electron Hydro purchased the dam from Puget Sound Energy in 2014. Fischer has been the chief operating officer for Electron Hydro LLC since then.

Public officials including Puyallup tribal government leaders have called for the dam's removal. The tribal council in a statement Monday called for consequences for polluting the river.

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians has treaty rights to fish in the river but was not consulted when the dam was built.

Puget Sound Energy canceled its power purchase contract with the dam's owners because of violations of environmental laws and permits. PSE has not taken power from the dam since July 2020.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tires stock photo
Testing by the University of Washington-Tacoma Center for Urban Waters revealed samples of recovered turf and crumb rubber contained chemicals found in tires and extremely toxic to fish. Above, a stock photo of stacks of tires. Robert Laursoo/Unsplash