California Garlic Ranch Under Wastewater Scrutiny

March 7, 2007

Three weeks after toxic levels of garlic-tainted wastewater lead to deaths of thousands of fish in Uvas Creek, water was again found leaking into the creek from a pipe owned by garlic producer Christopher Ranch.

Uvas Creek has recently been under close scrutiny because steelhead trout are listed as a threatened species, and the creek is one of the fish’s prime spawning areas.

According to the Gilroy Dispatch, at least 10 steelhead are reported to be among the thousands of dead fish found that were killed by wastewater tainted with rotting garlic.

The wastewater was traced to an underground storage tank at the ranch, at which point Bill Christopher took steps to prevent another spill. He cut the line between an aboveground hand crank and the tank's release valve more than six feet below ground, and locked the hand crank to prevent further use.

At this time, authorities are not able to determine the source of the spill in February. By the time Kyle Kroll, the state fish and game warden, was informed of the spill the next afternoon, the pipe was dry.

The Gilroy Dispatch reports that Kroll expects to receive a toxicology report this week on the spill that occurred early February. Meanwhile, authorities are investigating the actions of Christopher Ranch.

According to the law, Christopher Ranch will be penalized whether the discharge was accidental or purposeful. Federal law can fine up to $12,500 for the death of every fish on the threatened species list.

Mike Higgins, an engineer with the Water Quality Control Board, inspected the corrective measures taken by Christopher following the first spill and reported to the Gilray Dispatch that the latest discharge might have resulted from other storm water pipes.

However, a wastewater permit issued to the ranch in 1991 prohibits the release of any discharge into the creek, and the wastewater is not permitted to mingle with storm water. Higgins suspects that the first spill was caused by a pump failed in the underground vault and thus wastewater overflowed and mixed with storm water. The contaminated water filled up the vault and was eventually released by someone.

To avoid the mixture of wastewater and storm water, the garlic ranch must create a blueprint for their underground piping and install a back-up pump in the underground vault. Christopher confirmed that the ranch is working on mapping its pipes, but did not give a target date for when the upgrades would be completed.

Source: Gilroy Dispatch

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