A massive cheese factory, mired in controversy over water-quality violations, has innovative plans for its wastewater: It wants to pump the milky liquid deep underground.
December, the Sacramento Bee exposed wastewater
disposal violations at Hilmar Cheese Company near Modesto, which
produces over 1 million pounds of cheese every day. A subsequent
state investigation into Hilmar’s waste discharge practices
resulted in one of the highest environmental fines levied in
California’s recent history.
In January, the
Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board fined Hilmar $4 million
for violating wastewater standards with the salty "cow water" it
flushed onto surrounding fields, something the company had been
doing since the 1980s. At the same time, company co-owner Chuck
Ahlem resigned as second-in-command of the state Food and
Jo Anne Kipps, senior engineer with
the Water Quality Board, says that the wastewater was more than
just a pungent nuisance; it also raised salt levels in area
groundwater — which can be bad for both crop irrigation and
Now, Hilmar has applied for an
underground injection permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency. Much of the 1.5 million gallons of wastewater produced
daily by the factory will be processed in a new on-site wastewater
treatment plant, but the rest will be pumped into a 4,100-foot-deep
well, below aquifers containing potable water.
from nearby water districts don’t expect the underground
injection to affect their water supplies. If approved, the well
will join the ranks of 15 other deep waste-disposal wells in the
state, most of which are oil and gas-related. This would be the
first such well to deal with dairy products.