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Puyallup River, Electron Dam
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‘Outraged’ over Puyallup River pollution, Pierce County exec wants Electron Dam removed

A piece of the artificial turf in the Puyallup River. (Courtesy of Puyallup Tribe)

The Pierce County executive wants to see the removal of the Electron Dam on the Puyallup River, after its owners, Electron Hydro, LLC, polluted the river with sheets of artificial turf during a recent construction project.

About 600 square yards of the 2,400 yards of turf, which was laid down on the riverbed in sheets, disintegrated into coffee-ground-sized rubber particles, filling up the river and flowing all the way to its mouth in the Puget Sound.

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier said that this was not an innocent mistake — the turf was used without permission and without being documented in the proper permitting steps. Electron Hydro crews took the rolled-up sheets of turf from a dump site near the Electron Dam, where they had sat for years.

“This was not a construction project that went wrong,” Dammeier said. “This was an operator that willfully decided to depart from the approved approach and use an unapproved, hazardous, polluting material, and put it in the river.”

Puyallup River filled with debris from artificial turf at construction site

It is unknown how exactly the turf may hurt the animals and plants in the river, but scientists at the University of Washington are currently analyzing the tiny pieces of rubber to find that out.

Dammeier said he worries about the harm it could do to salmon ahead of the fall migration. Chinook are the main food source of the endangered Southern Resident orcas, and their declining population is one reason that the Southern Residents are struggling to survive.

“This is one of the very few if not the only spring Chinook salmon runs in Puget Sound, which is one of the preferred foods of the orcas,” Dammeier said. “So there are a lot of consequences to this beyond just the river and beyond just that dam.”

This is why Dammeier would like to see the 116-year-old Electron Dam removed and the river restored to its original run — he believes the good this could do the salmon would help offset the potentially harmful effects of the pollution.

“When you think about what it took to make the decision to put this hazardous material into the river — that is why I think an appropriate mitigation is to remove the dam, this old obsolete dam, and restore the river to its original run,” he said.

In the shorter term, Dammeier has ordered Electron Hydro to take steps to clean up the river and prevent more damage over the winter.

Electron Hydro said in a statement that the incident was “of grave concern.”

“Electron crews have been working over the past several weeks to recover these materials,” the company stated. “Electron is dedicated to river clean-up and restoration as should be expected … Electron provides renewable resources to the community in addition to substantial economic benefits. Electron intends to be a renewable resource community partner well into the future.”

Dammeier said that this is not the first time Electron Hydro has been in violation of a permit, and noted that “it’s a challenging relationship” between the county and company.

“My 3-year-old granddaughter could tell you that putting AstroTurf in a river is not a smart idea … I think everybody who is aware of what happened up there is outraged,” he said.

Pierce County is considering taking legal action, along with partners like the Puyallup Tribe.

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