By SEAN ELLIS
NOTUS, Idaho -- A feedlot in southwestern Idaho has reached a $42,000 settlement agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency for discharging pollutants into the Boise River without a Clean Water Act permit.
According to EPA, the agency received numerous complaints in 2011 that W/T Land & Cattle Inc. was flooded with water from the Boise River. The 1,000-head cattle feedlot is along the banks of the Boise River near Notus.
Inspection results and other information showed the facility had been discharging pollution into the Boise River during and after flood events, according to EPA.
Nick Peak, EPA's regional coordinator for concentrated animal feeding operations, said the agency has data proving that, including a U.S. Geological Survey study that showed a hydraulic connection between the water in that area and the feedlot.
As the flood water receded, the feedlot waste in the water moved through the sandy soil and a permeable berm to reach the river, according to EPA.
Boise attorney Bruce Smith, who represented W/T in the matter, said his client disagreed with EPA's claims and the settlement was purely a business decision "to reach a resolution and move on."
"My client was in complete compliance with all state requirements," he said. "We deny ... the allegations. He considers himself a very good operator and has never had any problems."
Jim Werntz, EPA's Idaho operations officer, said the feedlot owner has two choices. He could move the cattle out of that area near the river to another lot on the property further away, which would prevent the danger of future discharges.
"If he's not going to have cattle in that area, there's no legal requirement to get a permit," Peak said.
He could also obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, which specifies under what conditions a facility can discharge pollutants into a river or stream.
Obtaining an NPDES permit would require the feedlot to make certain modifications to the facility to comply with the permit, but it would also offer much greater protection, said Steve Potokar, the EPA compliance officer for the case.
Smith said W/T is still evaluating its options.
EPA officials said the incident should serve as a reminder to other feedlots that a berm breach isn't the only way pollutants can be discharged into water and that they could protect themselves by obtaining a permit.
"Producers need to understand that if they face the risk of accidentally discharging pollutants, they can mitigate those risks," Potokar said. "A permit does give them some protection. If you meet certain requirements, you can discharge during a flood event. If you don't have a permit, you cannot discharge during a flood event."
According to the National Weather Service, there is no defined flood stage for that section of the river, which crested at 13.83 feet in 2011. It is currently flowing at 8 feet and has crested at or past 13.83 feet four times since 1983.