Proposed Oregon mega-dairy wins key permit

Proposed Oregon mega-dairy wins key permit

by Tracy Loew
Statesman Journal

March 31, 2017

A dairy with 30,000 animals proposed for Eastern Oregon has won state approval of its plan to manage the 187 million gallons of manure it will produce each year.

Lost Valley Farm would be the second-largest confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) in the state, after neighboring Threemile Canyon Farms, which has 70,000 animals.

Opponents say siting the dairies so close together raises concerns about air and water pollution, water use and health impacts on nearby communities.

Both dairies hold contracts with Boardman’s Columbia River Processing, which produces cheese for the Tillamook County Creamery Association, maker of Oregon’s famous Tillamook Cheese.

Lost Valley Farm will begin operating in a few weeks, company officials said.

It will provide 125 to 150 union jobs and will spend about $50 million annually, much of it going into the local economy, they said.

California dairyman Greg te Velde has operated a smaller dairy, with 8,000 animals, since 2002 on land leased from Threemile Canyon.

In late 2015, te Velde purchased about 7,000 acres of the former Boardman Tree Farm, nine miles from the Columbia River, for the new dairy.

He applied for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, required for CAFOs with the potential to discharge manure to waters of the state. The federal permit is administered by the Oregon Department of Agriculture for CAFOs.

Oregon regulators received more than 4,200 comments on the proposed permit. On Friday, they announced it had been approved.

The permit was crafted to be the most protective of surface and groundwater of any CAFO permitted facility to date, Leah Feldon, deputy director of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, said Friday.

Among the requirements:

  • Use of a synthetic double liner, with a leak detection system between the liners, for the manure lagoon. It’s one of the few wastewater systems in the entire state with such a requirement, said Don Butcher, DEQ Eastern Region water quality section manager.
  • Increased groundwater monitoring, with the addition of an extra seven monitoring wells, for a total of 11.
  • A prohibition on applying manure to frozen or snow-covered fields.
  • An increased state inspection frequency of three to four times a year, and continuous review of monitoring data.

Opponents, however, said the permit requirements don’t go far enough.

A coalition of environmental groups now is trying to block a proposed water rights transfer between Lost Valley Farm and a neighboring landowner that would provide the dairy with the water it needs to operate.

The property te Velde purchased came with rights to irrigation water from the Columbia River. He wants to swap those for groundwater rights owned by a neighboring farmer.

The dairy is in a designated Critical Groundwater Area, meaning demand for water exceeds natural recharge rates.

“People are working hard to restore streamflows for salmon and protect groundwater aquifers,” said Brian Posewitz, staff attorney for WaterWatch of Oregon, one of the groups challenging the transfer. “Adding 30,000 cows to an overtaxed system undermines hard work to protect limited water resources.”

The dairy already has arranged to purchase water from the Port of Morrow during the dispute, company officials said in a news release.

The dairy also would be a significant source of new air pollution, critics said.

In 2005, researchers found elevated concentrations of ammonia and other nitrogen compounds in Oregon’s eastern Columbia Gorge. They identified Threemile Canyon Farms as a possible source.

In August 2016, the USDA Forest Service wrote ODA saying it was concerned about the dairy’s potential for adverse impacts to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area resulting from air pollutants emitted from the facility.

It asked the state to require the dairy to disclose the emission rates of all air pollutants from the facility, to identify methods to reduce those pollutants, and to implement reductions consistent with air quality goals.

However, that’s beyond the scope of the NPDES permit, state regulators said.

Oregon doesn’t regulate air emissions from dairies, although the Oregon Legislature is considering a bill that would do so.

Senate Bill 197 would require the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission to adopt a program for regulating air contaminants from large dairies.