News Feature | February 19, 2014

Wastewater Fine From California City Could Near $9 Million

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A California city is reviewing an alleged wastewater violation that could result in a nearly $9 million fine. 

The Modesto City Council is charged with deciding whether to waive the fine that Seneca Foods "owes the city for producing more wastewater than it is permitted under a city formula," according to a report published in the Merced Sun-Star

Modesto limits wastewater usage among its top industrial users, because the city "can process only so much wastewater," the report said. The city also operates a "capacity bank," which is meant "to facilitate the allocation of wastewater among its big industrial users."  

The problem for Seneca Foods arose when it exceeded its wastewater allocation "by 10 percent for two consecutive years or for three years during a five-year stretch," the Sun-Star said. 

"Wastewater is composed of flow, total suspended solids, and biochemical oxygen demand. Seneca exceeded the amount of biochemical oxygen demand it could produce in 2010 and 2011 because of its canned pear production line.  That line was using a caustic solution to remove the pear skins," the Sun-Star explained. 

But the company worked to correct the problem. It began to use mechanical knife peelers, "which resulted in Seneca coming into compliance," the Sun-Star said. 

Tom Sinclair, Modesto’s environmental regulatory compliance administrator, has added input that supports the waiver.

He argued that " it would not make sense to collect the $8.476 million Seneca owes the city because it made a permanent fix to the problem and would not need the additional wastewater capacity. He said that capacity now can be purchased from the city by other manufacturers," according to the Sun-Star

Seneca backers point out that industry brings jobs and growth to the local economy. 

Officials are still deliberating on the waiver. At a recent public meeting, "the city’s legal staff requested additional time to review the Seneca Foods item," the Modesto Bee reported. Here are the minutes of the meeting in which the decision was pushed back. 

Seneca features water conservation as a pillar of its environmental sustainability strategy. 

"Seneca has installed an anaerobic digester at one plant to treat wastewater as well as generate energy from biomass," the company said. "A by-product of anaerobic digestion is methane gas, which is then used as fuel in the manufacturing process. This digester allows us to convert from consuming energy as part of wastewater treatment to actual generation of a renewable source of energy."

The primary wastewater users in Modesto are "food manufacturers such as Del Monte, Seneca and E.&J. Gallo Winery. The users produce about one-third of the city’s annual wastewater flow," according to the Sun-Star

For more on industrial water, check out Water Online's Produced Water Treatment Solution Center

Image credit: "Modesto," © 2006 Mo Tom Hilton, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

Want to publish your opinion?

Contact us to become part of our Editorial Community.