Snake River Waterkeeper files a Clean Water Act lawsuit against Simplot

Improper management of animal waste, they allege, is leading to contaminated water
Simplot pipes showing pollutants to water
Posted at 4:52 PM, May 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-10 17:12:38-04

BOISE, Idaho — Boise-based Advocates for the West, representing the environmental advocacy group Snake River Waterkeeper, has filed a lawsuit against J.R. Simplot Company and Simplot Livestock Company claiming years of illegally polluting the waters of the Snake River. The pollution is attributed to operations from the Grand View Feedlot.

Located about 50 miles south of Boise, Simplot's Grand View Feedlot is one of the largest Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) in the country, and home to at least 65,000 cattle generating an estimated 50,000 tons of manure each year.

SRW says that Simplot does not properly contain, process and dispose of the massive amounts of manure generated, in violation of the Clean Water Act, and wants Simplot to be held accountable for failing to protect the Snake River.

In 2012, Simplot allowed its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to expire and never sought its renewal, despite being warned of the violation by the Environmental Protection Agency. This permit is required under the Clean Water Act and prohibits the discharge of any pollutant into navigable waters unless the discharge is compliant with other standards outlined in the CWA.

In addition to snow melt and rain runoff from the feedlot, the manure is generously used in surrounding crop fields. SRW alleges that Simplot is responsible for unpermitted discharges of pollutants into canals and water, including nitrogen, phosphorus, E. coli, fecal coliform, and suspended solids. They say this causes and contributes to violations of Idaho’s water quality standards, and putting the Snake River’s health in jeopardy.

The lawsuit claims that Simplot is operating the feedlot without the required NPDES permit, directly violating the CWA, and should result in fines of up to $65,000 per violation per day.

Since 2015, SRW claims to have conducted multiple studies on water samples taken from the area. The data indicates that waste routinely discharged from the feedlot contains high levels of fecal coliform and E. Coli bacteria, often associated with recent fecal contamination. SRW states that these bacteria ultimately end up in surface and drinking water.

"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 Snake River Waterkeeper’s Executive Director, Buck Ryan. “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."

The Snake River is considered heavily polluted due to agricultural and other pollutants, causing harmful summer season algal blooms, endangering people recreating in the water, as well as any wildlife using the river.

“I grew up in Southern Idaho along the Snake River,” said Advocates for the West attorney Bryan Hurlbutt. “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.”

When Idaho News 6 reached out to Simplot officials to comment on the lawsuit and received this response from the company's Global Communications and Public Relations Associate Director, Josh Jordon:

"We are aware of the complaint and are reviewing the details now. There are a number of complex allegations and we don’t comment on specific details related to pending legal matters, preferring to let the legal process run its course.

However, I will say that the Snake River has served as a backdrop for our operations in southern Idaho for more than 90 years. It provides important water and nutrients for not only our farms and ranches, but also for many of our farming partners and a number of the communities where we operate and our employees call home."