Now that Mountaire Farms has entered a consent decree with the State of Delaware, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays (CIB) has published its own list of recommendations related to Mountaire's wastewater permit violations near the Indian River.
Aiming as it does to preserve, protect and restore Delaware's inland bays and watershed, the CIB agreed with many requirements by Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) in June. But the CIB also went a step further.
In April, a CIB report concluded that the Mountaire poultry plant's repeated violations were chronic and that their wastewater treatment upset in 2017 followed a history of lax enforcement by state and federal regulators, contributing to pollution of ground and surface waters.
The CIB recommendations include better remediation, regulations, inspection, enforcement, permitting and monitoring, plus better public information. Although the recommendations were developed before the consent decree was released, CIB representatives said they remain relevant.
In August of 2017, an “upset condition” caused the Mountaire Farms wastewater treatment system to spray elevated levels of nitrogen, fecal coliform concentrations, biochemical oxygen demand (BODs) and total suspended solids (TSS) onto local crop fields.
It was the culmination of several years of lesser permit violations. Nutrients can help crops grow, but in this case, the water was sometimes not even treated before being unloaded onto open land.
Mountaire's processing plant and irrigation fields are located right beside Swan Creek and the Indian River, which flow into the inland bays and right into the CIB's purview.
DNREC did not respond to the CIB's request for more information about the cleanup.
“Clean drinking water and a healthy Indian River are extremely important to the health of our community and economy. We recognize the ongoing legal proceedings between DNREC and Mountaire, and we encourage important information concerning water resources to be made public,” stated Chris Bason, CIB executive director.
The CIB has proposed “2:1 mitigation” of pollutant loads from Mountaire's poultry processing plant into Swan Creek and Indian River.
They called for Mountaire's wastewater upgrades to be held to stricter standards, including better monitoring of the creek and river. Moreover, the CIB would have Mountaire fund studies and modeling of how nutrients and water flow in the groundwater, local estuary and watershed. They also propose the addition of more forested buffers, especially around water bodies.
“Existing monitoring of the river during the summers of 2017 and 2018 showed some of its worst-ever recorded water quality, with extremely-dense algae blooms and dissolved oxygen levels regularly falling to near zero,” according to the CIB.
The CIB also wants Mountaire to dig wells to intercept the most polluted groundwater for re-treatment at the facility's wastewater system.
The CIB called for DNREC to continue improving their online navigation system to list all permits, since it appears some are missing from the existing environmental navigator.
“An independent organization … should publish a report on causes of the failure of DNREC to prevent mismanagement of the facility (if that was the case), prevent permit violations, and achieve permit compliance,” plus steps necessary for improvement, the CIB report said.
They further encouraged DNREC to investigate any other Mountaire permit violations.
“Potential sellers of homes with private drinking-water wells should be required to disclose the level of nitrate in the water prior to sale,” the CIB report added.
Better public education would include the EPA, DNREC and CIB, they said, but also “reference Mountaire's status as a long-standing community stakeholder and the importance of environmental stewardship and company.”
The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is a non-profit organization established in 1994, and is one of 28 National Estuary Programs. For more information, call the CIB at (302) 226-8105 or visit www.inlandbays.org. The full report is online at www.inlandbays.org/mountaire-contamination-report.
By Laura Walter