PORTLAND — A controversial Oregon dairy will not be shut down despite violating a settlement agreement with farm regulators over wastewater management.
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Kelly Skye has asked attorneys for the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Lost Valley Farm to come up with less drastic remedies that will get the facility into regulatory compliance.
“I’m not inclined to order an immediate shutdown of wastewater,” Skye said at an Aug. 24 court hearing in Portland, Ore.
However, the judge did find that Greg te Velde, the dairy’s owner, had willfully violated his deal with ODA to maintain enough wastewater storage capacity.
As a “lifelong dairyman,” te Velde “should know what it takes to get his dairy into compliance” with regulations, Skye said.
A follow-up hearing on remedies for the violation has been scheduled for Aug. 30.
Oregon farm regulators had asked a judge to order Lost Valley to stop generating wastewater, which would effectively shut down the facility.
During the court hearing, the former farm manager of Lost Valley Farm testified that he quit on moral grounds after being asked to unlawfully spread wastewater to a field.
Jedediah Aylett said he resigned his position from Lost Valley Farm of Boardman, Ore., because he was concerned the facility wasn’t complying with its “confined animal feeding operation” permit.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture called Aylett as a witness against Greg te Velde, the dairy’s owner, who is accused of contempt of court for violating a settlement deal with the agency.
“The stuff he was doing wasn’t legal, wasn’t right,” said Aylett during an Aug. 24 court hearing in Portland, Ore. “I did not want to be involved.”
According to Aylett, te Velde requested that he apply wastewater to a center pivot-irrigated field that was already saturated, risking contamination of groundwater with nitrogen.
“He asked me to just pick a circle and he would take the fall for that circle if we over-applied,” Aylett said.
Other witnesses defended the dairy’s performance and refuted allegations by ODA, which wants to shut the facility down.
A retired Oregon State University animal science professor, Mike Gamroth, cast doubt on claims of excessive water usage at the dairy.
Since starting operations in 2017, the second-largest dairy in Oregon has been cited repeatedly for wastewater problems by ODA, which led to the lawsuit.
Under the settlement deal Lost Valley reached with ODA in March, the facility must limit its water usage to 65,000 gallons per day.
The agency now alleges that te Velde has committed contempt of court by exceeding the agreed-upon amount by up to 375,000 gallons per day, thereby contributing to wastewater management problems at the site.
To sanction the dairy, ODA is requesting that a judge order the facility to stop generating wastewater, which would effectively shut it down.
During the court hearing, Gamroth -- a retired OSU professor with extensive experience in the dairy industry -- said he doubted ODA’s estimates of water usage.
Gamroth testified that he doesn’t see how hundreds of thousands of additional gallons could be used without a glaringly obvious “Olympic size swimming pool” of excess water at the facility.
“I can’t find where that water goes, I really can’t,” Gamroth said.
One factor that could figure into ODA’s estimate is an inaccurate water meter that varies in its flow rate and total usage data, he said.
“It’s simply not realistic, and it’s got to relate to that meter,” he said.
State officials also based their estimate on the changing levels of water in manure lagoons, which are difficult to measure, Gamroth said.
A variation of just one inch in lagoon levels equates to 160,000 gallons of water, he said. “I don’t have confidence in those measurements, basically.”
Gamroth said he has probably visited every dairy in Oregon and does not believe Lost Valley Farm’s water usage is abnormally large.
“I don’t see any difference for a dairy of that size,” he said.
Similar conditions exist at other dairies, for which they haven’t been cited, Gamroth said.
“I think it’s a fairly clean dairy. Compliance issues are quite minor in most cases,” he said.
Overflow problems have been “minor,” wastewater storage is no longer a problem and the facility poses no greater environmental risk than other dairies, Gamroth said.
During cross-examination by the state’s attorney, Lisa DeFever, Gamroth acknowledged that he submitted a declaration in Lost Valley’s bankruptcy proceedings in May stating that the facility used nearly an acre foot of water per day, or roughly 320,000 gallons.
DeFever said the dairy hasn’t properly tested the nitrogen content of wastewater applied to fields, potentially causing groundwater contamination.
She also said the facility’s manure storage problems will likely resume once summer is over, which will “come back and bite us” when the rainy season begins.
“We will end up with them in the winter full and overflowing,” DeFever said.