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State says Nampa cheese-maker’s wastewater stored in dirt pond, fed to cattle is OK

Whey wastewater disposal raises questions

Tons of cheese-making byproduct and wastewater are being dumped in a dirt pit in Owyhee County to be used for cattle feed.
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Tons of cheese-making byproduct and wastewater are being dumped in a dirt pit in Owyhee County to be used for cattle feed.

Even though state inspectors found no wrongdoing, the owner of a dirt pit at an Owyhee County feedlot told them he is ending the practice of storing whey byproduct from a Nampa cheese-making plant.

The Idaho Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Quality on April 20 jointly inspected Wilson Creek Cattle Feeders’ 8-foot-deep rectangular pit after receiving a complaint from an Idaho conservation group. The pit, south of Melba and the Snake River, is is nearly as big as two football fields.

In April 7, the Idaho Conservation League asked each agency to inspect the site to determine whether Sorrento Lactalis’ dumping there violates Idaho waste-disposal and groundwater-protection regulations. The organization also questioned the legitimacy and safety of feeding the byproduct to cattle.

In its inspection report issued May 8, the agriculture department said it had approved construction of the pond in 2012. “The pond appeared to be in good original condition with no modifications,” the report said.

The feedlot’s owner, John Hepton, told inspectors the whey comes directly from Sorrento Lactalis and it does not go through any further processing. He said he is a nutritionist and “there is no danger or concern when feeding the whey byproduct to cattle.” The report concluded, “The ISDA did not identify any ISDA statutes or rules that were violated.”

The Department of Environmental Quality inspectors reported: “Because the byproduct is being used as feed and the lagoon is being used in accordance with the ISDA approvals, this lagoon and byproduct do not fall under Department of Environmental Quality jurisdiction. The department feels there is no further investigation necessary.”

Inspectors did not take samples of the pond’s contents.

Hepton told investigators he has recently stopped accepting the whey byproduct. He plans on using the remainder of the whey for feed and then using the pond for other purposes, such as water storage.

Idaho Conservation League Program Director Justin Hayes said, “I greatly appreciate ISDA and DEQ following up on our concerns and reviewing this matter, and I appreciate that the the feedlot owner has decided to phase out of storing this material on site. This seems like the right move.”

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

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