(Editor’s Note: The following article is a significantly longer version than the one that ran in the “In the News” section of the May 14 print and digital editions of The Packer.)

(May 11) SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, Calif. — The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has fined Natural Selection Foods LLC $95,000 for violating wastewater discharge rules.

Because of scrutiny following the September E. coli outbreak that was traced to San Benito County, water regulators have stepped up inspections of food processing facilities.

Natural Selection, marketer of the Earthbound Farm brand, is the first to face fines resulting from the inspections. The fines are not directly associated with the E. coli outbreak.

Samantha Cabaluna, director of communications for Natural Selection, said the discharge was water used to process vegetables and not sewage water.

“We recommended the $95,000 fine in our complaint that we sent to Natural Selection April 30 detailing that allegations of violations,” said Harvey Packard, the board’s enforcement coordinator.

Cabaluna said May 9 that the company has agreed the to pay the fine.

“We have also been working with San Benito County over a period of time trying to work out a solution,” she said.

Part of the solution, she said, involves amending the permit to increase the amount of water the company discharges. Packard said Natural Selection also could increase the amount of acreage it disperses the water on to prevent it from running into nearby San Juan Creek.

Packard said Natural Selection wants half the fine to go to construction of a water reclamation project under consideration by the city of San Juan Bautista.

“We need to review that before we approve it, though,” he said.

The board charged that Natural Selection disposed of an excessive amount of water containing chlorine that could affect aquatic life downstream.

“We had inspectors who witnessed that (runoff) firsthand,” he said. “If San Juan Creek is flowing all the way to the Pajaro River, steelhead trout could be affected.”

According to the complaint, Natural Selection has a permit to discharge 70,000 gallons per day onto 36 acres where it grows alfalfa as a cover crop. However, its output reportedly averaged 274,000 gallons and once up to 582,000 gallons over a 401-day period.

The company did report two spills into San Juan Creek of 18,000 and 6,000 gallons.

Packard said other vegetable processing facilities are being investigated.

“Since our investigations are ongoing, I can’t release any names at this point,” he said. “But we are looking at two Salinas-based facilities that have had various violations of our requirements.”