For release: July 16, 2012
Hermiston Food Processor Fined $4,500 for Applying Too Much Nitrogen to Crops
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued a $4,500 penalty to Snack Alliance, Inc., for exceeding the nitrogen limits set out in the company’s water quality permit.
The company disposes of wastewater from its food processing operations by applying it to alfalfa fields. That water contains nitrogen, a plant nutrient that when over-applied can pollute ground and surface water. Snack Alliance exceeded the permit’s nitrogen limits when it applied wastewater to several alfalfa fields in 2011. Those fields are located in a groundwater management area designated to reduce nitrogen levels in groundwater.
The permit limits the amount of nitrogen to the agronomic loading rate for a crop. The agronomic loading rate is the amount of a nutrient that a crop can use over a certain time frame. Exceeding that limit can cause nitrogen to leach below the crops’ root zone and into groundwater, where it poses a threat to people who depend on area groundwater to supply drinking water. Runoff with high nitrogen levels can reach surface waters, where it could spur harmful algal blooms and lead to depleted oxygen levels.
The fields are located in the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area. DEQ declared the area a groundwater management area because testing showed that the area’s groundwater contains elevated nitrate-nitrogen levels. Municipalities, agricultural operations and industrial facilities across the area are working to reduce nitrate-nitrogen pollution in groundwater, and Snack Alliance’s permit contains conditions designed to help prevent further groundwater contamination.
DEQ also found that the company applied more water to the alfalfa fields than the permit allows. Applying water faster than plants can take it up contributes to groundwater pollution because the water carries pollutants past the root zone and into groundwater. DEQ did not issue a penalty for this violation.
The company appealed the penalty July 3.