A southern Idaho feedlot manager convicted of violating federal drinking water laws and lying to an investigator was ordered Tuesday to serve four months of home detention and pay $5,000 in fines.
Cory King, a manager at Double C Farms near Burley, has also been sentenced to three years of probation for illegally injecting fluids into the groundwater in 2005.
King was convicted by a Pocatello jury in April of four felony counts of violating the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and corresponding state laws. During the trial, federal prosecutors argued that King used a series of pipes and irrigation wells to divert the fluids into the aquifer without permits.
Prosecutors also tried to prove the fluids were tainted by manure and bacteria, making the crimes more harmful to the environment and eligible for stiffer punishment. But those claims were rebuffed during a hearing last month by U.S. District Judge B. Linn Winmill, who ruled the government failed to make a clear and convincing case the fluids were contaminated and that King knowingly polluted the aquifer.
"We would have preferred to prevail on the pollution charges, but we did hold the most culpable person responsible, and that's an important victory for the government and the people of Idaho," said Mark Measer, agent in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency's Region 10 Criminal Investigation Division. "We want to make sure the regulations that protect drinking water are vigorously enforced."
Throughout the investigation and court case, King claimed he was not a polluter and was injecting nothing more than creek water.
The judge rejected King's motion for a new trial in September. But defense lawyers said they intend to appeal the conviction and argue that the federal government has no authority to regulate groundwater in Idaho and lacks jurisdiction to prosecute alleged violations.
"While we remain disappointed with the jury verdict ... the fact that the judge found no evidence of pollution is certainly a significant victory for Mr. King," Boise attorneys David Lombardi and Larry Westberg said in a statement.
Concerns by state and federal officials emerged in May 2005 during a routine waste inspection of the 400-acre feedlot at Double C Farms. The inspection, conducted by an inspector with the Idaho Department of Agriculture, reviewed the irrigation wells, waste containment ponds and other waste and irrigation infrastructure.
In January 2008, a federal grand jury indicted King on charges of incorrectly installing backflow valves on the irrigation wells, which allowed water in the aboveground pipes to flow backward and into the wells.