Port of Morrow Statement on Modified DEQ Permit

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has granted the Port of Morrow a modified permit for industrial wastewater treatment and land application. To comply with permit requirements, the Port will invest up to $200 million in improvements, including wastewater treatment facilities.

DEQ’s permit modifies an existing Water Pollution Control Facilities permit issued December 21, 2017, which allows for land application of industrial wastewater from food processors, energy generators, data centers and job-intensive industries at the Port. Without reuse, the wastewater would be just waste. The major change in the modified permit is effectively disallowing land application of wastewater in the non-growing season from November through February.

The Port proposed to construct additional wastewater storage lagoons with a 1.5-billion-gallon capacity by November 1, 2026. The added capacity will hold large amounts of wastewater during winter months and allow the Port to meet restrictions on winter wastewater application.

The Port also proposed constructing three anaerobic digestors to treat high-nutrient wastewater. The first unit is nearly complete. All three will be online by November 2023. Oxidation ditches will be added by July 2025 to provide secondary treatment for water from the anaerobic digesters. These deadlines may change based on supply chain issues, which would cause a need for a modification.

The Port committed to a substantial expansion of farmland acreage used for land application of wastewater stored over winter months. In addition to providing a reliable source of water for irrigation without drawing down groundwater, the wastewater contains nitrogen that substitutes for commercial fertilizers produced with fossil fuels.

Port Commissioners declined to appeal the modified permit despite expressing concerns to DEQ over aggressive deadlines and the agency’s calculations of nitrogen levels in land-applied discharges. Meeting the deadlines will require swift start-up and completion of wastewater infrastructure upgrades. Commissioners instructed Port staff to pursue funding sources for the $150-$200 million investment to comply with modified permit provisions, including applying for State of Oregon funds and federal funds from the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Even though the Port is responsible for approximately 3.5 percent of the nitrates found in the Lower Umatilla Ground Water Management Basin, our responsibility as environmental stewards is to do everything possible to ensure industrial wastewater remains a community asset” stated Lisa Mittelsdorf, Executive Director.

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