The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board approved a settlement with Hilmar Cheese Company last week that resolves all alleged violations against the company for process water treatment and discharge activities.

"The adoption of the revised settlement allows us to move beyond the problems so we can focus on solutions," said John Jeter, Hilmar Cheese Company CEO. "The settlement sets the foundation for cooperation so we can work together and begin to develop real, science-based, economical and environmentally sustainable solutions."

The enforcement action against Hilmar Cheese Company was initiated after Hilmar's self-monitoring reports documented that process water discharges exceeded permit levels for salt. The enforcement action was settled to allow Hilmar Cheese Company and regional water regulators to move forward with workable, long-term solutions for the entire food processing industry. The settlement provides the funding and a unique opportunity to identify workable solutions to difficult salt management and disposal options.

Under the settlement, Hilmar Cheese Company has agreed to pay a total of $3 million. The centerpiece of the settlement is a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) to study the management of salinity in process water in California's food processing industry. Hilmar Cheese Company will provide $1.85 million for the study, which will play an important role in broader salt management research and planning activities recently undertaken by the State and Regional Water Boards.

The SEP will be spearheaded by well-known and highly regarded researchers known for their work in water quality issues, as well as issues involving environmental, health and safety regulations in California. The study will focus on the California Central Valley's multi-billion dollar food production and processing industry and finding science-based and balanced solutions for the long-term management of salts.

Additionally, under the settlement, $1 million will be directed to the State Water Resources Control Board Waste Discharge Permit Fund, which is available to the Regional Water Quality Control Board for appropriate clean-up and abatement purposes. Finally, $150,000 is being made available to reimburse the state for attorney's fees and costs.

"Resolving Hilmar's issues now allows for the broader and more important discussion on how to manage salinity in the Central Valley to begin. We look forward to being part of that process and part of the solution. The salinity study we have agreed to fund will clearly play an important role," Jeter added.

Source: Hilmar Cheese Company press release,