Lost Valley Megadairy ChallengeCrag has filed a protest to water rights for Lost Valley Farm, a 30,000-head mega dairy near the Columbia River, on behalf of a coalition of water protection, public health, and animal welfare organizations. The facility is one of the nation’s largest dairy confined animal feeding operations and poses a major threat to ground and surface water, air quality, and public health in the region. Lost Valley Farm produces roughly 187 million gallons of manure each year and uses over 320 million gallons of water annually, raising questions about the risk of manure pollution and long-term impacts to the Umatilla Basin and Columbia River as water becomes scarcer due to drought and climate change. “The Department’s failure here puts species health and biodiversity at risk and disregards the harm of this action to public health,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It must reconsider this action to protect the Columbia River and the species, including humans, that depend on it.”
What's at Stake
Lost Valley Farm needs rights to pump groundwater from a Critical Groundwater Area — an area designated by the state because demand for water exceeds natural recharge rates — in the Umatilla Basin. Before it was a Lost Valley Dairy, this land was the site of a tree farm, which had water rights from the Columbia River. However, a dairy needs groundwater rights. The company proposed a so-called “water rights transfer” to swap Columbia River water rights for groundwater rights. According to the coalition’s appeal, the transfer should not be allowed because it would increase the amount of water pumped from an over-allocated groundwater area and harm other water users. “The scale of this project is stunning. Lost Valley Farm would produce more biological waste than most Oregon cities and consume more water than most factories,” stated Lauren Goldberg, Staff Attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper. “Oregonians value clean water and strong salmon runs. Factory farms like Lost Valley fly in the face of those values.” In addition to water quality and quantity concerns, the facility would be a significant new source of air pollution in a region already impacted by emissions from several nearby large confined animal feeding operations and industrial sources. In 2008, the Oregon Dairy Air Quality Task Force found that dairies and other animal feeding operations emit a wide range of pollutants including ammonia, nitrogen oxides, methane, volatile organic compounds, hydrogen sulfide and particulate matter, all of which pose public health risks in a region with declining air quality.
To secure a water supply for the short-term, Lost Valley Farm applied to the state for two “limited licenses” that would allow it to take about a million gallons of water per day for five years from two different aquifers. The groups filing the protest, along with some additional groups, filed comments opposing those applications. In February 2017, The Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) proposed approving key water rights required for the Lost Valley Farm. In response, Crag filed a protest on March 30, 2017. This challenge comes on the heels of over 6,000 public comments filed with the state’s environmental and agriculture agencies urging denial of the facility’s proposed water pollution permit. The Oregon Legislature is currently considering a bill, SB 197, to fix the loophole that allowed the farm to tap into a protected aquifer. On June 27, 2018, the State of Oregon officially shut down Lost Valley Farm by revoking its water pollution permit. It had violated its wastewater permit 224 times. By March 1, 2019, Lost Valley Dairy Farm had sold to Canyon Farm, LLC, a Washington-based company, and the herd had been sold at auction. Through all this, the water rights transfer is still pending, so Crag will continue to represent our clients as they challenge the transfer.
Crag Staff Attorney Maura Fahey is representing Columbia Riverkeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Humane Oregon, and WaterWatch of Oregon as they challenge OWRD’s decision. “People are working hard to restore streamflows for salmon and protect groundwater aquifers,” said Brian Posewitz, Staff Attorney for WaterWatch of Oregon. “Adding 30,000 cows to an overtaxed system undermines hard work to protect limited water resources.” As a direct result of their work to oppose Lost Valley Farm, Crag clients Columbia Riverkeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Humane Oregon, and WaterWatch of Oregon joined with six other organizations to call for a moratorium on Mega-Dairies until the Oregon government passes legislation to ensure environmental, health, and economic protections for local communities. Feature Image by Motoya Nakamura – The Oregonian.