Idaho beef company must clean Nevada river
RENO – The Environmental Protection Agency ordered an Idaho beef company Monday to correct damage it caused by diverting a river’s flow on it’s 1.4 million acre ranch in Elko County or face hefty fines.
Failure to submit a plan to clean up the South Fork Owyhee River in Northern Nevada by mid-January could result in Agri Beef Co. of Boise facing fines up to $32,500 a day, EPA officials said Monday.
Agri Beef officials said the alleged violation stems from “a single event” that occurred a decade ago. They said they were cooperating with the EPA.
Agri Beef diverted about 1,200 feet of the river’s flow – a stretch longer than a football field – by placing an estimated 3,200 cubic yards of dredged dirt and debris into the channel without a federal permit on the IL Ranch near Tuscarora, about 80 miles northwest of Elko, EPA officials said.
The agency ordered the company to return the river to its normal flow, remove dirt and debris, replace any vegetation removed and take steps to further prevent erosion of the stream banks.
EPA discovered the violation after a site inspection in July prompted by a tip from a local citizen, EPA spokeswoman Laura Gentile said Monday. She said failure to meet the January deadline could trigger the daily fines of up to $32,500 under the U.S. Clean Water Act.
Agri Beef vice president Rick Stott said from headquarters in Boise Monday afternoon that the EPA notified the company of “certain permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act” with a notice dated Thursday.
The company’s environmental specialists are reviewing the notice, which “relates to a single event occurring 10 years ago on the company’s Nevada ranch,” said Stott, vice president of government affairs.
Agri Beef has been working closely with EPA for several months “and will continue to work with the agency to resolve these issues in an environmentally positive way,” he said.
Gentile said Monday she did not know when the diversion originally occurred. She said the agency’s order was based on the inspection in July.
“When we learned about it, we took action,” she said.
Alexis Strauss, director of EPA’s water division for the Pacific Southwest regional office in San Francisco, said the company will be required to monitor the river for five years to evaluate the success of the restoration.
The Owyhee River flows north out of Nevada into Idaho’s Snake River, a popular recreation destination for fishing and rafting, Strauss said.
“The Owhyee River is a treasured natural resource of the Western United States,” she said in a statement. “We will ensure this company complies with our order to undo the damage and restore the river.”
Environmental groups have been critical of Agri Beef’s grazing practices on federal lands in Nevada, including in areas around the Owyhee River. Katie Fite, director of the Committee for the High Desert, said her group did not notify EPA of the river diversion, but she was glad that someone did.