The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has revised the penalty against 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.

Back in January, the DEQ issues the original penalty of $1.3 million.  But because of additional fines, that total has increased to $2.1 million.

According to DEQ, the primary source of contamination in the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area, about 70%, is from fertilizer use on irrigated farmland.  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.  DEQ said 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.

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