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J.R. Simplot Company sued for alleged pollution on the Snake River

large brown pipes hanging over a small water-filled canal, discharging water from nearby fields. Water below one pipe is turbulent and noticeably brown.
Snake River Waterkeeper
Court Filing
A photo from the court filing alleging discharge from the JR Simplot Company's Grand View feedlot is contaminating nearby canals and the Snake River with runoff from animal waste.

The J.R. Simplot Company is being sued in federal court over allegations of ongoing polluting of the Snake River.

Snake River Waterkeeper, a nonprofit advocacy organization claims its water tests near Simplot’s Grand View Feedlot show dramatically higher bacteria content due to runoff from livestock waste.

“The e-coli counts and total coliform counts [fecal matter] are exponentially higher below that mile or two-mile stretch of river,” said Buck Ryan, Snake River Waterkeeper’s founder and executive director.

The 750-acre feedlot south of Boise is one location Simplot takes its food processing byproduct and turns it into livestock feed. It sits north of the Snake River but is adjacent to canals and ditches which feed into the river and border the Ted Trueblood Wildlife Management Area.

It qualifies as a large"concentrated animal feeding operation," according to definitions of the federal Clean Water Act, which means it requires permitting for any discharge of unclean water.

Simplot let a permit for the facility expire in 2012 and did not renew it or obtain other permits related to the Clean Water Act, according to the filing.

The lawsuit says the over 47,000 pounds of animal waste generated by as many as 150 thousand head of cattle is simply too much to all be absorbed as fertilizer on neighboring fields, and seeps into the nearby tributaries and into the Snake.

Ryan said that, while recreation opportunities are sparse in that area, his organization was alerted to potential pollution and started testing water in 2017. Water samples were gathered in multiple places near the feedlot on multiple dates, at different times of year. Most of the samples were gathered in 2022.

“We follow a very strict set of sampling protocols that have been used by the National Waterkeeper Alliance and refined by our staff to meet our needs in these kind of sampling situations,” Ryan explained.

He says there’s no other activity in that area that could explain the levels of contamination they found.

“The fishery is is heavily impacted by this level of pollution,” he said. “The kayaking, canoeing boating, [and] swimming downstream of this could be excellent. Unfortunately, that kind of primary contact is just not safe because of the levels of bacteria in the river.”

Simplot’s spokesperson declined to comment on pending litigation but called the Snake River an important backdrop to the company’s 90 years of operations.

“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,” Josh Jordan wrote by email.

The lawsuit asks the court to immediately block the company from discharging wastewater into the Snake River or its tributaries and fine Simplot more than $100 million, plus attorney fees.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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