Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 30, 2017

Contact:  Lauren Goldberg, Columbia Riverkeeper, (541) 965-0985,
Maura Fahey, Crag Law Center, (503) 525-2722,
Brian Posewitz, WaterWatch of Oregon, (503) 295-4039 x 2,
Hannah Connor, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 681-1676,

Water Rights Challenged for Proposed Oregon Mega-dairy

Controversial Proposal to Build One of Nation's Largest Factory Farms Near Boardman Faces New Hurdle: Securing Water for 30,000 Cows

SALEM, Ore.— A coalition of water-protection, public-health and animal-welfare organizations today filed a legal challenge over the water rights for a proposed 30,000-head mega-dairy near the Columbia River. The facility would be 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.

Last month the Oregon Water Resources Department proposed approving key water rights required for Lost Valley Farm, a business venture of California dairyman Gregory te Velde. Columbia Riverkeeper, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Humane Oregon and WaterWatch of Oregon challenged the Department's approval decision. The coalition is represented by the Crag Law Center, a nonprofit environmental law group.

“People are working hard to restore stream flows 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.”

Lost Valley Farm needs rights to pump groundwater in the Umatilla Basin from a “Critical Groundwater Area” — an area designated by the state because demand for water exceeds natural recharge rates. According to public records, Lost Valley Farm secured water rights from the Columbia River when it purchased the former tree farm where the mega-dairy is proposed to be built. But it needs groundwater rights to operate as a dairy, and the company proposed a so-called “water rights transfer” to swap Columbia River water rights for groundwater rights. The coalition argues that 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.

Meanwhile, to secure a water supply for the short term, Lost Valley Farm has applied to the state for two “limited licenses” that would allow it to take about 1 million gallons of water per day for five years from two different aquifers. The groups filing the protest were among groups that filed comments opposing those applications.

“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,” said Lauren Goldberg, a 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.”

The latest challenge comes on the heels of more than 6,000 public comments filed with the state's environmental and agriculture agencies urging denial of the facility's proposed water pollution permit. Lost Valley Farm would produce roughly 187 million gallons of manure each year and use 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 ignores risks to public health as well as wildlife and biodiversity,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It must reconsider this action to protect the long-term health of the region's irreplaceable water supplies.”

In addition to concerns about depletion of water resources and harm to water quality, the facility would be a significant new source of air pollution in a region already polluted 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.

Despite those findings the state has no plan to regulate, or even monitor, air emissions from the facility. The Oregon Legislature is currently considering a bill, S.B. 197, to close this loophole.      

Appeal of Lost Valley Farm Water Rights Transfer
Coalition Comments on First Lost Valley Farm Limited License Water Right
Coalition Comments on Second Lost Valley Farm Limited License Water Right
Fact Sheet on Dairy Air Pollution Loophole in Oregon
White Paper on Air Pollution from Dairies in Oregon

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