DEQ fines the Port of Morrow

By on Tuesday, January 11th, 2022 in Columbia Basin News More Top Stories

BOARDMAN – The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has fined the Port of Morrow $1.3 million for repeatedly over-applying wastewater containing nitrogen to agricultural fields in the Lower Columbia Basin and failing to monitor those fields in the area which has a longstanding history of groundwater contamination.

The Port of Morrow collects wastewater from food processors, storage facilities and data centers in its industrial park. The port has a DEQ permit that allows it to use the nitrogen-rich wastewater for irrigation on nearby farms. However, the permit includes limits on how much nitrogen can be applied to the land as well as how much can be present in the soil prior to the applications.

DEQ said the port violated those limits more than a thousand times resulting in approximately 165 tons of excess nitrogen being applied between 2018 and 2021. The DEQ also said the port failed to monitor the nitrogen at the sites on 121 separate occasions each year from 2018 to 2020.

“The existing nitrate contamination in the basin’s groundwater means everyone in the region has to do their part to reduce this contamination,” DEQ Deputy Director Leah Feldon said. “The Port of Morrow has not been doing its part and DEQ looks forward to working together to correct these violations and protect our aquifers from future contamination.”

The port is only one of many sources contributing to the nitrate contamination according to DEQ. The primary source is fertilizer used on irrigated farmland followed by confined animal feeding operations, pastures, food processing wastewater system, and septic systems.