Public Interest Groups, Farmers Challenge Oregon Mega-dairy Pollution Permit
Approval Ignores Clean Water Act, State Law; Threatens Public Health, Groundwater
PORTLAND, Ore.— Local and national groups today challenged Oregon’s approval of a water-pollution permit for the Lost Valley Farm, a newly built 30,000-cow industrial dairy operation in Morrow County. The permit fails to meet federal Clean Water Act and state requirements for preventing the discharge of animal waste and wastewater into surrounding communities and the environment, the groups charge.
The petition for reconsideration, filed with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon Department of Agriculture, notes that the mega-dairy’s discharge of fecal matter, pharmaceuticals and heavy metals will endanger public health, wildlife and water quality. The challenge was filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Columbia Riverkeeper, Food & Water Watch, Friends of Family Farmers, Humane Oregon, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and Oregon Rural Action.
“The high concentration of cows on industrial dairy operations like Lost Valley poses serious concerns for public-health groups, environmentalists and animal advocates,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Together with small family farmers and area residents, this coalition is fighting to protect the interests of everyone — including the cows — standing to suffer from this irresponsible decision.”
The permit authorizes Lost Valley to operate in the highly sensitive Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area — a region already characterized by significant groundwater depletion, a shallow aquifer vulnerable to contamination and elevated groundwater nitrate concentrations, which can cause “blue baby syndrome” and other health problems.
Lost Valley will be the second-largest industrial dairy operation in Oregon and one of the largest in the country. It is expected to generate approximately 23 million cubic feet of waste and wastewater annually.
“This industrial-scale dairy operation will generate the same amount of waste as Oregon’s largest cities, but without the same waste water treatment,” said Amy van Saun, attorney with Center for Food Safety. “Concentrating this massive amount of waste in a groundwater-impaired area is a recipe for disaster, especially for the people who rely on that groundwater for drinking-water supplies.”
The groups are, in part, challenging the permit's groundwater monitoring, which will be sporadic and will not test for many pollutants expected in the operation's waste stream, including pharmaceuticals, heavy metals and pesticides.
“This mega-dairy threatens to spew mega pollution, creating an environmental nightmare for the people and wildlife unlucky enough to share the landscape,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Approving this dangerous permit to pollute shows that Oregon’s leaders are walking away from the state’s long commitment to sustainable, safe farming practices.”
Lost Valley and other industrial-scale dairy operations also threaten farm-animal welfare and the livelihoods of the region’s small family farmers.
“In approving this permit, Oregon's agencies decided not only to look the other way on significant water pollution issues, but to ignore the impacts these mega-dairies have on the economic viability of family-scale dairy farms across the state,” said Ivan Maluski, with the nonprofit Friends of Family Farmers. “Oregon has seen a steady loss of small and mid-sized family dairies over the years, due in part to the ability of mega-dairies like Lost Valley to flood the market with milk and drive down prices paid to family farmers.”
Maluski said Oregon is at a crossroads. “Will we open our doors to a growing number of polluting factory farms, or will we protect the ability of family-scale farms to thrive in our state?”
The agencies have 60 days to respond to the coalition’s request for review. If the agencies deny the groups’ petition or fail to respond, the groups have the right to challenge Lost Valley’s permit in court.