DEQ increases fine against Port of Morrow

By on Saturday, June 18th, 2022 in Columbia Basin News More Top Stories

SALEM – The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has revised its penalty for nitrate contamination in the groundwater, increasing it by $800,000 to total $2.1 million. The DEQ stated in a prepared release that the increase is due to additional violations involving over-application of wastewater containing nitrogen to agricultural fields in the Lower Umatilla Basin.

“The Port of Morrow is one of many sources contributing to nitrate contamination in northern Morrow and Umatilla counties,” the DEQ wrote. “The primary source of contamination in the area (about 70 percent) is from fertilizer use on irrigated farmland according to the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area Action Plan.”

The news release stated that additional contributors to the contamination include dairy and cattle farms, food processing facilities, other sources including residential septic systems. DEQ estimates the dairy and cattle operations contribute about 20 percent of the contamination while the food processing facilities like the Port of Morrow contribute about five percent, as do the other sources.

“The Port of Morrow collects wastewater from food processors, storage facilities, and data centers in its industrial park outside Boardman” the DEQ wrote. “The port has a water quality permit that allows it to use 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 high a nitrate level or moisture in the soil. The DEQ says that action increases the likelihood of the nitrates flowing down into the groundwater rather than remaining in the soil for crops.

The port documented the additional violations to DEQ. They occurred between November 2020 to February 2021 and from November 2021 to February 2022.