Southern Oregon Organic Dairy Pleads Guilty to Violating Clean Water Act

Photo courtesy Oregon Department of
A Southern Oregon dairy pleaded guilty to criminal charges for improperly discharging manure into a creek and river in violation of its waste management permit. This photo from a 2019 Oregon Department of Agriculture inspection shows manure piling up on the property.

Noble Family Dairy will pay a $25K fine for harboring 130 more cattle than it was permitted, causing manure to flow into a creek and river.

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A Southern Oregon dairy pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act — by discharging cow manure into a nearby creek and river — and has been ordered to pay a $25,000 fine.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney – District of Oregon, Noble Marital Trust, doing business as Noble Family Dairy, pleaded guilty to one count of negligently discharging a pollutant on Monday in federal court.

Noble Family Dairy is situated about 13 miles east of Grants Pass and is certified as organic, according to Oregon Department of Agriculture records. According to a 2021 profile of the dairy that ran on a blog for the Coastal Farm & Ranch retail chain, operators farm just over 1,000 organic acres and graze an additional 500. The article says it produces 8,750 gallons of organic milk per day, and says 100% of the milk Umpqua Dairy ships to stores after processing is from the Noble Dairy farm.

In April of this year, the business was charged with one count of discharging a pollutant in violation of a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, a misdemeanor under the Clean Water Act.

The case, which was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division with assistance from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and ODA, stems from a series of events in 2019.

Prosecutors say that at that time, the dairy had 1,760 cows but was only allowed 1,630 under its waste-management permit. That created a level of waste operators couldn’t contain. The dairy’s manure lagoons began to overflow; in response, operators dug a trench to capture runoff. But in February 2019 the trench failed, causing manure to flow into Caris Creek and into the Applegate River.

An inspector from the Oregon Department of Agriculture visited the dairy in March 2019 and found that while the trench had been fixed, manure was still collecting, sometimes in piles as high as 18 inches. The inspector also saw “what appeared to be islands of solid manure in Caris Creek and manure visibly discharging from the creek into the Applegate River,” according to the release.

“By disregarding the maximum number of cattle allowed by its waste-management permit, the Noble Family Dairy caused significant environmental harm to two waterways shared and enjoyed by countless Rogue Valley residents and visitors,” Nathan J. Lichvarcik, chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Eugene and Medford branch offices, said in the release. “Our nation’s environmental laws exist to protect human health and the environment, and we will continue working closely with our partners at EPA to hold accountable anyone who violates them.”

“This defendant’s actions caused the discharge of manure into the Applegate River and Caris Creek, causing significantly elevated levels of E. coli in the water,” Benjamin Carr, acting special agent in charge of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Oregon, said in the release. “EPA and its partners will continue to protect the waters of the United States from illegal pollution discharges that contribute to serious health problems and put our communities at risk.”

In June 2020, ODA issued Noble Dairy a civil penalty of $38,584 and entered a consent order requiring payment of $25,465 and installation of significant manure system infrastructure as well as additional sampling and inspections, according to an ODA spokesperson, who adds that the dairy is currently on schedule with compliance requirements with its confined animal-feeding operations permits, as well as the additional requirements.

Noble Dairy did not respond to a request for comment from Oregon Business, but the Oregon Capital Chronicle quoted attorney Kristen Tranetzki as saying the dairy has been in compliance with its permits since its 2019 violations and “is fully committed to compliance with state and federal regulations.”