Oregon raises Morrow Harbor water pollution fine to $2.1 million

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has increased the fine for groundwater contamination at Morrow Harbor to $2.1 million following additional wastewater violations .

The agency added $800,000 to the port’s original $1.3 million fine on Friday for excessively applying nitrogen-rich sewage to agricultural fields in the lower Umatilla Basin. The area is burdened with groundwater pollution and is the primary source of drinking water for Morrow and Umatilla counties.

A DEQ spokesperson said the agency was aware of other violations but needed more documentation.

The port’s executive director says the company recognizes that groundwater contamination is a serious problem, but says it is also a community problem that will require a community solution.

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Read the DEQ press release here:

Boardman, OR—The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued a revised fine to the Port of Morrow for additional violations involving excessive application of nitrogen-containing wastewater to agricultural fields in the lower basin of Umatilla, an area long-contaminated by groundwater. DEQ issued the original sanction in January. Additional violations increase the fine by $800,000, from $1.3 million to $2.1 million.

**Information in Spanish**

Morrow Harbor is one of several sources contributing to nitrate contamination in northern Morrow and Umatilla counties, an area known as the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area. The main source of contamination in the area (about 70%) is the use of fertilizers on irrigated agricultural land, according to the LUBGWMA Action Plan. Other contributors are dairy and beef 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 sewage from food processors, storage facilities and data centers at its industrial park outside Boardman. The port has a DEQ water quality permit that allows it to use nitrogen-rich wastewater for irrigation of nearby farms, but the permit includes limits on the amount of nitrogen that can be applied to agricultural land and the amount of nitrate and moisture that may be present in the soil. before the nominations.

The amended advisory cites the port for additional occurrences of applying nitrogen-containing wastewater to fields that already had too much nitrate or moisture in the soil. Having too much nitrate or moisture in the soil during wastewater application increases the likelihood of nitrates flowing into groundwater rather than staying in the soil for crops to use.

The port has documented additional DEQ violations in its annual report and in email and telephone non-compliance reports. The additional violations occurred between November 2020 and February 2021 and between November 2021 and February 2022.

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