SACRAMENTO (CN) – Calling the offense “egregious,” California drought regulators fined the state’s largest tomato processor $1.5 million on Monday for failing to report and properly dispose of millions of gallons of wastewater.
Regulators say Morning Star Packing Co. expanded two wastewater ponds without a permit and released 266 million gallons of waste from its plant in Colusa County.
The discharges exceeded state limits for nitrogen, salt and organic waste, the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board said.
Inspectors learned of the unpermitted ponds in August 2015 when neighbors complained about unusual smells coming from Morning Star’s massive 120-acre processing plant in Williams, which is 60 miles northwest of Sacramento.
Officials called Morning Star’s expansion of its waste ponds “egregious,” and said the company failed to disclose the plans during its permit update in 2012.
“When a discharger chooses to mislead our staff in this way, we are unable to assure that their practices will be protective of water quality,” said water board officer Andrew Altevogt.
Morning Star says on its website that its tomato processing plant in Williams is California’s largest and can process 200,000 lbs. of tomato paste per hour.
During the typical three-month harvest, hundreds of millions of pounds of tomatoes are processed at the plant, for sale to major customers to be used, for example, in Campbell’s Soup and Heinz Ketchup.
The water board said Morning Star’s expanded ponds reduced nearby cropland from 695 acres to 485 acres. The nearby crops help prevent contaminants such as nitrogen and salt from seeping into groundwater.
The board also issued Morning Star a cease-and-desist order, requiring it to address 10 categories of waste discharge violations.
Morning Star owns three tomato processing plants, a large transportation company and farming operations in California.
Morning Star did not immediately return a phone call after business hours Monday.
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