PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has increased the Port of Morrow’s groundwater contamination fine to $2.1 million following additional wastewater violations.
The agency added $800,000 to the Port’s original $1.3 million fine Friday for over-applying nitrogen-rich wastewater on agricultural fields in the Lower Umatilla Basin. The area is burdened with groundwater pollution and is the primary drinking water source for Morrow and Umatilla counties.
A DEQ spokesperson says the agency knew about additional violations but needed further documentation.
The Port’s executive director says the company recognizes groundwater contamination has been a serious problem but says it’s also a community problem that will require a community solution.
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Read the DEQ press release here:
Boardman, OR—The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued a revised penalty to the Port of Morrow for additional violations involving overapplication of wastewater containing nitrogen to agricultural fields in the Lower Umatilla Basin, an area with longstanding groundwater contamination. DEQ issued the original penalty in January. The additional violations increase the fine by $800,000, from $1.3 million to $2.1 million.
The Port of Morrow is one of many sources contributing to nitrate contamination in northern Morrow and Umatilla counties—an area known as the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area. The primary source of contamination in the area (about 70%) is from fertilizer use on irrigated farmland, according to the LUBGWMA Action Plan. Additional contributors are dairy and cattle farms (about 20%), food processing facilities like the Port of Morrow that reuse wastewater to irrigate fields (about 5%), and residential septic systems and other sources (about 5%).
The Port of Morrow collects wastewater from food processors, storage facilities and data centers in its industrial park outside Boardman. The port has a DEQ water quality permit that allows it to use the nitrogen-rich wastewater for irrigation on nearby farms, but the permit includes limits on how much nitrogen can be applied to the farmland and how much nitrate and moisture can be present in soil prior to applications.
The amended notice cites the port for additional occurrences of applying wastewater containing nitrogen to fields that already had too much existing nitrate or moisture in the soil. Having too much nitrate or moisture in the soil when applying wastewater increases the likelihood of nitrates flowing down into the groundwater rather than remaining in the soil for crops to use.
The port documented additional violations to DEQ in its annual report and in email and phone reports of non-compliance. The additional violations occurred between November 2020 to February 2021 and November 2021 to February 2022.