California water regulators fined Morning Star Packing Company $1.5 million this week for the unauthorized expansion of two wastewater ponds and wrongful disposal of approximately 266 million gallons of wastewater.
According to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, investigators discovered a wastewater cooling pond had expanded from 60 to 100 acres and contained unauthorized discharge of tomato waste. Other violations include “the failure to address continuing groundwater pollution; operation of an unpermitted silage operation; the unauthorized expansion of the settling pond; and the creation of objectionable odors that were detected beyond the property boundaries.”
The water board says Morning Starr failed to disclose the two pond expansions to the board during the 2012 permit update process. Board staff discovered the unauthorized expansion in August 2015 when staff began receiving odor complaints from neighbors of a Morning Star facility. The Morning Star Packing Company owns three tomato packing facilities, a trucking company and farming operations in the Central Valley.
Local news outlets reported company owner Chris Rufer agreed to the cease-and-desist order from the board, but intends on appealing the fine. Rufer told the Sacramento Bee he did notify the board about the expansion and regulators were aware this would equate to more wastewater, which Rufer contends is clean and has not degraded groundwater.
“This is a misunderstanding and they want to make us a bad guy,” Rufer told the publication