Despite concerns of water pollution and contamination, the agencies responsible for permitting a 30,000-cow dairy farm in Morrow County will not be reconsidering their decision.
Lost Valley Farm, located on a portion of what used to be the Boardman Tree Farm, was issued a controversial wastewater handling permit March 31 from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Department of Environmental Quality, which together administer the state’s confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.
Opponents of the dairy filed what’s known as a petition for reconsideration, asking regulators to take a closer look at whether the permit does enough to protect surface water and groundwater sources. On Tuesday, ODA and DEQ issued a 10-page order denying the request and potentially setting the state for a future lawsuit.
Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers in Salem, issued a statement saying attorneys are reviewing Tuesday’s order. He said there is a “clear indication that Oregon has a broken system for CAFO permitting,” while specifically criticizing ODA, DEQ and Gov. Kate Brown.
“These mega-operations pollute the air with no environmental oversight, they put our limited groundwater at risk, and though Oregon has lost nearly 40 percent of our dairy farms over the past decade with small and mid-sized farms getting hit the hardest, the governor and her agencies are bending over backward to open the door for out-of-state factory farms like Lost Valley,” Maluski said.
Lost Valley Farm is owned by Greg te Velde, a California dairyman who has been milking cows in Oregon since 2002. He used to run Willow Creek Dairy on land leased from Threemile Canyon Farms before relocating and expanding his business, which sells milk to Tillamook Cheese at the Port of Morrow.
In the lead-up to permitting, ODA and DEQ were flooded with 4,200 public comments, mostly in opposition to Lost Valley. The campaign was spearheaded by a coalition of environmental, animal rights and small farms groups including Friends of Family Farmers, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Columbia Riverkeeper, Food & Water Watch, Humane Oregon, Humane Society of the United States, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and Oregon Rural Action.
They argue that Lost Valley — which at full capacity is expected to generate 187 million gallons of wastewater and manure annually — poses a significant risk of groundwater and surface water contamination, while also exacerbating elevated levels of groundwater nitrates in the lower Umatilla Basin.
Regulators have insisted their permit for Lost Valley is the most protective of any to date, requiring 11 groundwater monitoring wells and a minimum of three annual inspections.
Te Velde has also defended the farm’s management practices. Wastewater is stored in lagoons on site and then mixed at specific agronomic rates with irrigation to help grow feed crops for the cows. Monitoring wells are supposed to ensure the soil is not being overloaded with the nitrogen-rich water.
Lost Valley has been operating for several months now, so far bringing in 16,000 total animals with 8,700 being milking cows. The dairy expects to gradually build its full herd of 30,000 animals over the next several years.
Contact George Plaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0825.