Open Stormwater Gate Causes Costly Garlic Spill

Santa Clara County District Attorney Dolores Carr has announced that her office has settled a civil lawsuit against Christopher Ranch, LLC, a major garlic processor in Gilroy, Calif.

On Feb. 3, 2007, water contaminated with garlic spilled from Christopher Ranch's stormwater recovery system into Carnadero Creek. Portions of the stream for at least 1/8 mile downstream were contaminated by the garlic wastewater, which deprived fish of oxygen. Several hundred fish were killed, including at least nine federally protected steelhead salmon.

The spill was a result of Christopher Ranch's failure to maintain its stormwater system by ensuring that a "slide gate," which was only to be opened if the area was flooded, remained closed. Christopher Ranch had been cited in 2001 for leaving that gate open; the company also failed to inspect the gate regularly in the six months preceding the spill.

Christopher Ranch promptly admitted liability to a violation of Fish and Game Code Section 5650(a), water pollution, and has spent over $250,000 to repair and modernize its stormwater system. The company will pay $25,000 in civil penalties and another $35,000 for damage to wildlife, and costs to agencies investigating the spill. The money will be deposited into fish and game preservation funds maintained by Santa Clara County and the California Department of Fish and Game, and to the agencies themselves to cover investigative expenses.

The case was investigated by the California Department of Fish and Game and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement. The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office Environmental Protection Unit assisted in the investigation and prosecuted the case.

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