Local government

DEQ issues fine to Ontario in the wake of 2022 discharge of wastewater into the Malheur River

ONTARIO – The city of Ontario is being fined $11,200 for an illegal discharge of wastewater into the Malheur River last year, caused by a fractured pipeline gasket.

About 400,000 gallons of treated wastewater got into the river.

The pollution occurred when a gasket in the five-mile-long Skyline pipeline that runs under the river fractured. The city pumps treated wastewater through the pipeline to Skyline Farms north of town where it is applied to fields. 

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality notified the city of a potential fine in November 2022. In December, City Manager Dan Cummings appealed the fine, asserting the gasket break was no fault of the city.

His appeal said the pipeline has no manholes or other access points to allow for inspection of the pipeline. He said even an inspection would not have detected a flaw in the gasket.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued a civil penalty Sept. 19 for the unauthorized discharge and “for causing a violation of the acute toxicity water quality standard for chlorine in the river. The city also violated the pH effluent limit in its wastewater disposal permit, but DEQ did not assess a penalty for this issue,” the department wrote in its notice to the city.

The state permit restricts the city from discharging treated wastewater into the Malheur River between May 1 and Oct. 31 because of flows in the river are too low.

Cummings said the city will pay the fine.

“We figured it would cost us more money to appeal it then to just pay it,” he said.

The money for the fine will be pulled from the city’s sewer fund, he said.

Cummings said the city promptly fixed the broken gasket.

“We went in and did emergency repairs. Took about a week. It was no fault of anyone. Gaskets just fail,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE – The Malheur Enterprise delivers quality local journalism – fair and accurate. You can read it any hour, any day with a digital subscription. Read it on your phone, your Tablet, your home computer. Click subscribe – $7.50 a month.