For Immediate Release: Monday, October 31, 2022


Mitch Cutter, Salmon & Steelhead Associate, (208) 345-6933 x 221 

Abby Urbanek, Communications Manager, (208) 345-6933 x 214

Oil spill from Little Goose Dam threatens lower Snake River

BOISE, ID – An aging hydroelectric turbine likely spilled 300-600 gallons of oil into the lower Snake River over the last three months. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reported on October 25 that staff at Little Goose Dam – constructed in 1970 – discovered the oil loss and immediately shut down the responsible turbine. USACE staff are working to understand and fix the problem, and have deployed containment measures in the reservoir below the dam. 

“Each of these lower Snake River dams is about 50 years old,” said ICL Salmon & Steelhead Associate Mitch Cutter. “As they continue to age past their intended lifespan, spills and forced outages like this will get more and more common.”

The lower Snake River is a home and migration corridor for four runs of wild salmon and steelhead: spring/summer Chinook, fall Chinook, sockeye, and steelhead. Bull trout are also known to inhabit the area. Each of these five fish populations is listed under the Endangered Species Act. Oil is known to harm fish, though the full damage caused by this oil leak is unlikely to ever be known. A similar leak happened in 2019 at Lower Monumental dam, just downstream. 

The four lower Snake River dams are in poor shape, by USACE’s own assessment. Data collected from USACE in 2021 showed that across the four dams, about a third of their internal components are in “Poor” or “Marginal” condition. This is especially true at Little Goose Dam, where more than half of the internal components are “Poor” or “Marginal.” Replacing the generating units at the four dams, which will need to happen in the coming years, is expected to cost nearly $1 billion. Operating and maintaining the dams costs an estimated $125 million per year. 

“Rather than continuing to spend billions of dollars repairing aging infrastructure, it’s time to make new investments in modern, clean energy systems that can replace these decrepit dams,” continued Cutter. “We can make sure our money is spent wisely, our rivers stay clean, and our iconic salmon and steelhead are saved from extinction.”