Defending Idaho’s Snake River from Feedlot Pollution
9th of May 2023
Advocates for the West filed a lawsuit against the J.R. Simplot Company and Simplot Livestock Company for years of unlawful pollution discharges from the Grand View Feedlot into the Snake River in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA).
Simplot’s Grand View Feedlot, located in the Snake River canyon about a one-hour-drive south of Boise, is one of the largest Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) in the country, with a capacity of up to 150,000 cattle. On a typical day, the feedlot is home to at least 65,000 cattle, generating at least 47,450 tons of manure each year. This untreated animal waste—along with the hormones, antibiotics, and pathogens contained within—contributes to the pollution of the Snake River and its tributaries through runoff from the feedlot as well as over-application of manure to area crop fields.
“I grew up in southern Idaho along the Snake River,” said Bryan Hurlbutt, Staff Attorney at Advocates for the West. “It’s a shame how polluted the Snake has become during my lifetime after more and more CAFOs moved in. I look forward to the day when my family and all Idahoans can safely fish and swim on the Snake River. But until CAFO pollution is reined in, that day will never come.”
“For decades, J.R. Simplot’s Grand View Feedlot has used the Snake River as a sewer system to move manure downstream, externalizing catastrophic bacterial pollution to downstream communities and aquatic life,” said Buck Ryan, Executive Director at Snake River Waterkeeper. “It is time Idaho stopped offering zero accountability to the nation’s biggest corporate polluters. This case is a first step toward retaking control of the health of our local waterways by applying federal laws designed to make waterways healthy enough to sustain life in the future.”
“Factory farms like the Grand View Feedlot are industrial-scale polluters,” said Dan Snyder, Senior Attorney at Public Justice. “Simplot confines tens of thousands of animals in one place, which requires intensive feeding and the production of massive amounts of manure. This waste pollutes Idaho’s waterways, threatening local communities and future generations. The problem isn’t the animals, it’s the way industry raises them.”
The Snake River is a source of water as well as an important site for recreation and fishing—activities that are threatened by continued agricultural pollution. The river contributes to Idaho’s $3.7 billion tourism industry, which employs more than 45,800 Idahoans and generates $475 million in local, state, and federal tax revenues. But the Snake River—especially the middle Snake River near Grand View—is heavily polluted. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) classifies this stretch of the Snake River as “impaired” for failing to meet water quality standards. Downstream of the CAFO, the middle Snake River is so polluted with agricultural wastes that toxic algal blooms break out in summer, rendering the river water unsafe to even touch and prompting public health warnings from DEQ.
Over a six-year period, Snake River Waterkeeper’s team conducted extensive water quality sampling in the Snake River at the Ted Trueblood Wildlife Management Area and other locations near the feedlot. The data clearly shows the Grand View feedlot routinely discharges waste that contains (among other pathogens and pollutants) extremely high levels of fecal coliform and E. Coli bacteria—as well as high levels of nitrate and suspended solids, all of which end up in surface and drinking water.
Simplot is operating the Grand View CAFO without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, which violates the CWA. Even after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued Simplot a warning in 2012 that its discharges were unlawful, Simplot failed to come into compliance with federal law and obtain an NPDES permit.
Under the CWA, federal law requires that companies obtain a permit for any facility discharging pollutants into a public waterway. Permit compliance ensures the operation adequately contains and legally disposes of animal waste by requiring that discharge contents and volumes be reported. Without a permit, discharges directly violate federal water quality standards and can trigger fines of up to $64,618 per day, per violation.