One of the largest concert venues in the Northwest is in trouble with the Washington State Department of Health. The Gorge Amphitheater turns into a small city during summer music festivals like Sasquatch and Paradiso.
But in a warning letter this week, health officials told concert producer Live Nation that its waste-water practices are inadequate and could pose a threat to public health and the environment.
For each festival, as many as 25,000 people camp out on fields overlooking the Columbia River.
Regulators say large balloon-like tanks that collect water from the campground showers don’t meet state standards. Grey water from wash stations is seeping into the ground through an illegal system of makeshift drains. And without better monitoring equipment, the state can’t tell if a decades-old sewage system is up to par.
Health Department engineer Richard Benson said the letter was the latest of several notices.
“They failed to renew their permit last year, then they missed their deadline to submit sampling data," he said. "Then they semi-complied with what we asked them to in November.”
Benson said Live Nation has made changes, but it’s been slow.
In a written statement, Live Nation officials say they’re working on it and plan to spend over $1 million on upgrades to water facilities at the site.
Most of the bathrooms on-site are port-a-potties. Benson says waste from those is being trucked out and disposed of properly.
Meanwhile, the small hospital in Quincy, Washington, is asking the concert producer to help cover the cost of providing medical care to concert-goers suffering from alcohol poisoning, overdoses and dehydration.
Live Nation’s full statement on the Washington Health Department’s notice:
“We continue to work closely with DOH, as any business would, to get approval of upgrades. These upgrades will ensure a great safe and nicer environment for our fans. This is a huge project, one that requires the acquisition of additional water rights, upgrading of water facilities and upgrading of sewer systems; all while working in concert with many governmental agencies. At our own expense, we are investing more than $1 million in this project, and the majority of the services and work are being done by locals. As with any major project, there are issues which arise that need to be addressed and we will continue to do so. We are thankful the DOH is assisting us with this project and that they want it to be a successful project.
"Our fans have already started to see the benefits from the project during the Sasquatch festival and we have received positive feedback. Now that we are at the goal line, we are excited to push on through to completion, which we hope to be in the very near future.”