By Sara Shepherd

Staff writer

HERMISTON — About 78 million gallons of wastewater spilled from J.R. Simplot's containment lagoon over a portion of Highway 207 and caused damage to two homes and extensive flooding to farm and pasture grounds.

Oregon Highway 207, which runs south of Interstate 84 at Exit 188, was damaged Tuesday due to dam failure.

At one time, water flowing over Highway 207 was measured at more than a foot deep.

Officials say it was likely that a badger had burrowed into the impoundment and had torn through the high-density poly liner, allowing water to burst through. The overall damage consists of a 50-foot hole in the side of the lagoon, says Simplot's Fred Zerza.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality was informed of the spill Tuesday afternoon. The DEQ then determined that the lagoon first ran into a nearby irrigation canal and breached its dike, crossing the highway in two different areas. It eventually entered Butter Creek's dry beds, which leads to the Umatilla River.

Water samples are currently being conducted at a local laboratory.

Zerza says that two dwellings within a mile of the lagoon were directly affected. One home's pasture and farm land was flooded, while the other suffered water damage inside the home, as well.

Simplot is taking care of the family's housing and eating arrangements for possibly the next 10 days or so says Zerza.

Well users, swimmers, and anglers are cautioned about water usage until further notice. Others downstream of the accident were also notified. J.R. Simplot representatives offered to supply bottled water to about seven families whose well water was affected.

According to Zerza, Simplot will be covering all liability insurance damages.

Contractors are currently assessing and giving recommendations for repairing the canal, says Mike Wick, Westland Irrigation District Manager.

"We need to get the water back into the ditch as soon as possible," he said. "That is the main focus."

"We have a commitment to providing irrigation water," says Zerza.

Simplot has hired a contractor that has temporarily constructed a structure to prevent further discharge of wastewater from the lagoon says the DEQ.

The water will probably be pumped into a nearby pond, said Wick.

Zerza said the lagoon water was primarily fresh water, due to Simplot's closing last November.

He also said that will begin working on measures to prevent future incidents.

"It is unacceptable," he said.

As of Thursday afternoon, one lane of Highway 207 was open for limited traffic. Vehicles wider than 16 feet will be restricted from using the affected highway section until further notice. Repair work is expected to begin soon and will likely continue through the month of May.

For more information contact the Westland Irrigation District at 667-2030.

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