U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- A cattle rancher in southern Idaho must pay
$40,000 after settling a federal complaint that manure-laden water
from his 7,000-head operation spilled illegally into a canal leading
to the Snake River.
Bruneau Cattle Co. owner Eric Davis must also make sure future
wastewater from his feedlot is confined to a grass field, not spilled
into streams leading to the river. The field also can't be overloaded
with nutrients from the manure.
If he can't do that, Davis will have to construct a lagoon to
collect the water, according to the settlement.
Following a February 2006 inspection, EPA officials determined
Davis' ranch southeast of Bruneau had discharged wastewater without a
permit on dozens of occasions into the South Side Canal and another
channel, both of which eventually flow into the Snake River's C.J.
Strike Reservoir. Though the feedlot held about 4,000 cattle at the
time, it didn't have any containment facilities to prevent runoff
during rainstorms, the EPA said.
"The big thing they've agreed to do, which I think is critical, is
to put in place a containment system," said Mike Bussell, the
director of the EPA's compliance and enforcement of rules governing
feedlots, in a telephone interview from Seattle.
Davis acknowledges that heavy rains between Christmas and Dec. 31,
2005, caused wastewater to spill into the South Side Canal from a
portion of his feedlot that he'd recently altered, but failed to
surround with adequate berms.
Those berms have since been constructed and he's also added
fencing to keep horses out of the canal, Davis said.
Though he disputes the EPA's contention that wastewater spilled
from his ranch on dozens of occasions before the 2006 inspection,
Davis said he didn't want to fight it in an upcoming hearing set for
"I wasn't ready to pay three times the $40,000 to go to court,"
said Davis, adding the agreement with the EPA to contain wastewater
mirrors a system he's been in place at his ranch since the 1970s.
Until several years ago, Davis had a discharge permit for
wastewater that would have allowed some runoff from his feedlot to
spill into tributaries of the Snake River during extremely heavy
rainfalls, Davis said. That permit expired and Davis's application
for a replacement hasn't been approved by the EPA, he said.
The EPA confirmed it has received a new discharge application from
Davis. No new permit has been issued because of "workload issues,"
said Mark Ryan, an EPA lawyer in Boise.
Still, Ryan said the illegal discharges noted by inspectors in
February 2006 wouldn't have been allowed, even had Davis' permit been
"The bottom line is, it would have made no difference," Ryan said.
"He had no containment. That's not allowed under the permit."
The inspection that turned up the alleged violations at Bruneau
Cattle came just after the EPA in 2005 said the Idaho Department of
Agriculture had been doing an inadequate job of monitoring water
discharges from livestock feedlots. As a result, the federal
environmental regulator said it would begin inspections of its own.
In all, EPA inspectors scrutinized 30 ranches. Davis' ranch was
the only one found with serious violations of rules meant to keep
water safe for drinking, recreation or other uses, Bussell said.
"Overall, given that we looked at 30 facilities, that's telling
me, there's a pretty high rate of compliance," he said. "That was
encouraging to see, because we really didn't know when we went into
this. It doesn't mean we're going to stop looking."
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