Cochrane's Dairy and its current owner, Barry Cochrane, are facing five charges under the Fisheries Act for allegedly dumping waste water from the dairy plant into the Castor River in Russell, Ont., southeast of Ottawa.

The Castor River flows into the South Nation River, which flows into the Ottawa River.

The five charges against Cochrane's Dairy and Barry Cochrane are:

  • That between Aug. 23, 2012, and Nov. 15, 2012, they deposited or permitted the depositing of a deleterious substance — waste water from the dairy plant — into the Castor River, which is frequented by fish.
  • That between Aug. 23, 2012, and Nov. 15, 2012, they failed to notify an inspector, fishery officer or a relevant authority about the depositing of waste water into the Castor River.
  • That between Aug. 23, 2012, and Nov. 15, 2012, they failed to take all reasonable measures to prevent the depositing of waste water into the Castor River.
  • That on or about Dec. 7, 2012, they failed to provide an inspector, fishery officer or relevant authority with a written report on the depositing of waste water into the Castor River.
  • That between Sept. 27, 2012, and Dec. 7, 2012, they failed to comply with a direction of a Fisheries inspector. 

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Cochrane's lawyer, Robert Houston, said that in August of 2012 a City of Ottawa employee saw what looked like milk fat floating on the Castor River and complained to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Cochrane's Dairy milk bottle charges

Cochrane's Dairy produces milk products at its plant in Russell, Ont., southeast of Ottawa. (CBC)

A Fisheries inspector showed up at the dairy plant on Aug. 23, 2012.

But Houston said the current owner wasn't aware that his grandfather, who founded the plant in the 1930s, had built an underground system of pipes to deal with waste water.

The waste water is produced from cleaning the large milk vats. The underground system transported that water to the river, and Barry Cochrane thought it was a septic system, Houston said.

At the time of the inspection in 2012, Barry Cochrane's father was still alive and in charge of the plant, and came up with a solution that arguably "wasn't appropriate," Houston said.

He has since died.

Robert Houston lawyer Cochrane's Dairy Barry Cochrane

Robert Houston, the lawyer for Cochrane's Dairy and its owner, Barry Cochrane, says the waste water transportation system was built in the 1930s, and that Barry Cochrane wasn't aware of it until an inspector showed up. (CBC)

"But what is happening now, and has been happening for literally over a year, is the waste water is pumped out into a truck and taken away and disposed of in quote, an appropriate fashion," Houston said.

"All of that has been rectified and there are no problems whatsoever. And as a matter of fact, from our point of view, although the waste water has been flowing into or was flowing into this river for decades, there has been no problem whatsoever."

Houston said it's his understanding that milk residue in the undiluted waste water is fatal to some species of trout. He also said he and his client are not aware of any reports of dead fish.

But Meredith Brown, executive director of Ottawa Riverkeeper, said a lack of dead fish doesn't mean there isn't a problem.

"They might not find dead fish in the river. ... We can't visibly see all the effects of putting chemicals in our river. In fact we visibly see very few of the effects, and that's why we have to come up with these tests for defining what is deleterious," Brown said.

Meredith Brown Ottawa Riverkeeper charges Cochrane's

Meredith Brown, executive director of Ottawa Riverkeeper, says she's glad the Fisheries Act is being enforced. (CBC)

"The Fisheries Act is the greatest tool we have to protect the quality of our water. It's what stops people from putting chemicals and pollutants in the water, and we drink from the river. We fish in it, we swim in it, so it's in everybody's best interest that we keep it clean."

The matter is going to trial in December.