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Union Pacific Railroad Company Clean Water Act Settlement

(WASHINGTON, D.C. - August 6, 2009) Union Pacific Railroad Company (UP) has agreed to settle alleged violations of the Clean Water Act in Nevada by restoring 122 acres of mountain-desert streams and wetlands, implementing storm water controls at its construction sites, and paying a civil penalty, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

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Union Pacific Railroad (UP) is the largest railroad in the North America, with operations in 23 states and Mexico and almost 50,000 employees. UP is a wholly owned subsidiary and the principle operating business of Union Pacific Corporation, headquartered at Omaha, Nebraska. The violations occurred in the waters of Meadow Valley Wash and Clover Creek, in vicinity of Union Pacific's Caliente subdivision in Lincoln and Clark Counties, Nevada.

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Injunctive Relief

The Consent Decree requires UP to remove dredged and fill material from 21 designated locations within the waters of Meadow Valley Wash and Clover Creek, replant affected areas with native species, monitor and maintain the restored and revegetated areas for at least five years, implement and maintain construction storm water controls, and implement an invasive species removal project. The removal and restoration work will restore approximately 122 acres of waters of the United States to natural conditions. Union Pacific has already completed much of the removal and restoration work, and the storm water compliance activities.

Union Pacific is required to monitor and maintain all of the revegetated areas, plus eight "Stream Restoration Design" sites where Union Pacific is conducting substantial restoration work over large areas. The Consent Decree establishes performance criteria that must be met for each site at the end of a five-year monitoring period, otherwise EPA can extend the monitoring period for two more years. Union Pacific is required to submit progress reports and describe any problems that arise with meeting the performance criteria.

Union Pacific will fund tamarisk eradication and native plant restoration work at two locations, covering approximately 50 acres within the Meadow Valley Wash channel, upstream from the locations of its violations. Tamarisk is an invasive plant species that poses a serious threat to streams and wetlands in the southwestern United States. Tamarisk out competes beneficial native vegetation in riparian areas and substantially impairs the flow of stream channels.

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Pollutant Reductions in tons per year (tpy)

  • Restoration of 122 acres of wetlands
  • 100 tons of sediment reductions.

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Environmental Benefits

Union Pacific's clearing and grading of stream channels and placement of flow diversion structures in Meadow Valley Wash and Clover Creek significantly altered the ecology and hydrology of the streams. These activities reduced the capacity of the streams to dissipate the energy of high flows by reducing the structural complexity of the channels and wetlands. These changes also reduced surface and subsurface water storage of the channels and wetlands which increased the intensity of high flows in narrow areas of Meadow Valley Wash and scouring of soil surface in Clover Creek and Meadow Valley Wash. Placement of structures within the waters also reduced the time for particulate detention, which plays an important role in food web and energy dynamics for organisms and wildlife dependant upon the riparian habitat. These activities also altered the natural cycling of organic matter and sediment in the watershed, likely increasing the amount of sediment discharged downstream. Natural flooding in January 2005 stripped riparian vegetation from parts of the stream channel; Union Pacific's activities exacerbated these losses and reduced the ability of vegetation to recover. These negative impacts will be ameliorated by the removal, restoration and revegetation work required by the Consent Decree.

The discharge of storm water runoff from construction activities can have significant impact on rivers, lakes, and wetlands. During construction, earth is compacted, excavated and displaced, and vegetation is removed, which increases sediment transported to receiving waters. Storm water can pick up other pollutants at a construction site, like debris, pesticides, petroleum products, chemicals, solvents, asphalts and acids which may also contribute to water quality problems. Sediment-laden runoff results in increased turbidity and decreased oxygen in a stream, which in turn results in loss of in-stream habitat for fish and other aquatic species. Sediment-laden runoff can kill fish directly, destroy spawning beds, and suffocate fish eggs and bottom dwelling organisms. Sediment-laden runoff can increase difficulty in filtering drinking water, resulting in higher treatment costs, and can result in the loss of drinking water reservoir storage capacity and decrease the navigational capacity of waterways. Sediment-laden runoff blocks light and reduces growth of beneficial aquatic grasses. Union Pacific's compliance with the storm water requirements of the State of Nevada's Storm water General Construction Permit and the Clean Water Act will substantially reduce the amount of sediment entering the streams due to Union Pacific's construction activities.

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Civil Penalty

Union Pacific will pay a penalty of $800,000 to resolve its liability for the CWA violations alleged in the complaint.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comment is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For additional information, contacts:

Cheryl Rose
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2242A)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20460-0001
(202) 564-4136

Brett Moffatt
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (ORC-2)
75 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 972-3946