PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has increased the Port of Morrow’s groundwater contamination fine to $2.1 million following additional wastewater violations.
The agency added $800,000 to the Port’s original $1.3 million fine Friday for over-applying nitrogen-rich wastewater on agricultural fields in the Lower Umatilla Basin, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
The area is burdened with groundwater pollution and is the primary drinking water source for Morrow and Umatilla counties.
DEQ spokesperson Laura Gleim said the agency knew about additional violations initially but had to get documentation in order.
Gleim said the Port violated its water quality permit an additional 626 times — making a total of 2,155 violations during winter months between November 2020 and February 2022.
The agency found the Port added 96 additional tons of excess nitrate to nearby agricultural fields for an estimated 261 tons total. The fine is the second largest in the agency’s history.
Port Executive Director Lisa Mittelsdorf said the company recognizes groundwater contamination has been a serious problem for decades. But she said it’s also a community problem that will require a community solution.
“By the DEQ’s own analysis, the Port’s industrial wastewater reuse program is responsible for less than 5% of the area’s nitrates,” she said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to work with DEQ to collaborate on a solution that will address what happens to industrial wastewater during winter months without shutting down the industries generating that wastewater.”
Last week, Morrow County declared a local state of emergency after private well water testing showed high levels of nitrate contamination. Drinking high levels of nitrate can cause health risks, including respiratory infections, thyroid dysfunction, and stomach or bladder cancer.