SALEM — State regulators on Friday approved a wastewater permit for a hotly-debated expansion of a large dairy farm in Boardman.
The Lost Valley Farm, on about 7,000 acres formerly belonging to the Boardman Tree Farm, is now due to start operating in the coming weeks. It’s a project of Greg te Velde, the owner of the nearby mega-dairy Willow Creek Farm, whose cows supply milk to local processors.
The proposed expansion drew criticism from environmental and animal-welfare groups, and state agencies say they have taken additional steps to address them.
Lost Valley Farm will be allowed to have up to 30,000 cows under a permit designated for confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
The permit issued Friday is intended to protect surface and groundwater from contamination, officials say.
Leah Feldon, deputy director of the Department of Environmental Quality, said Friday that the department had done “extensive review and work” on the permit over the past year.
The departments say Lost Valley Farm will also be required to closely monitor its groundwater, soil and leak detection in areas where animal waste is stored. There will be eleven groundwater monitoring wells on the site.
The state also says that the only nearby surface water is a canal at a higher elevation than the farm, which would make it “improbable” that the farm’s wastewater or stormwater would end up there. Further, they say, the entire property is in a depression.
Large dairies such as Lost Valley Farm are typically subject to inspection by the state Department of Agriculture three or four times a year.
Lost Valley Farm expects to start with 16,500 cattle in the first year and gradually build the herd over several years, according to ODA and DEQ.
Although state regulators say it was not a factor in the permit decision, the state also touts the expected economic value of the project, which the dairy estimates will provide more than 100 jobs.
The farm also says that they will recycle about 75 percent of the water they use. In a statement, te Velde said the farm agreed to all the requirements of the permit and remained “committed to protecting the quality and quantity of groundwater in the critical groundwater area.”
The proposed dairy is located in the Umatilla Groundwater Management Area, which has elevated levels of nitrate.
The state’s water resources department is currently processing the dairy’s water use applications; an appeal period ends April 7.
The dairy currently has a temporary permit until April 30, which allows 450 gallons per minute of water for construction.
Through a water rights transfer, the farm is requesting 1,037 acre feet of water per year.
State officials said Friday that the state received a protest filed by the Crag Law Center on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups, who oppose the transfer and called the operation a “major threat” to water and air quality.
The permit does not regulate air quality, which was a concern raised by environmental groups and by a group representing small and mid-sized farms.
The Lost Valley Farm plans to build and use a methane digester in two to three years, if it is “economically feasible.”
A bill currently before the Oregon Legislature would require the state’s Environmental Quality Commission to adopt a program regulating air contaminant emissions from confined animal feeding operations such as Lost Valley.
Ivan Maluski, of Friends of Family Farmers, called the decision by state regulators “disappointing but not unexpected.”
Maluski argues that large dairies like Lost Valley push small and midsize dairy farms out of business, and points to a 2013 report from the state’s employment department that shows that the number of small dairies in Oregon shrank between 2002 and 2007.
State Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, said in a statement that the project was a “win” for the region and the state, and demonstrated “we can welcome projects without compromising our high standards for protecting the environment.”
The Oregon Dairy Farmers’ Association could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.