MERCED, Calif. -- California state water regulators found more than 50 decomposing cow carcasses at a Merced County dairy, and the operator could face fines and a referral to the California attorney general's office.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a cleanup order this week to the Rego Dairy in Gustine. Owner Franklin Rego has until March 30 to clean up the violations. If he can't meet that deadline, he could face fines.
State inspectors found the rotting cows partially buried in manure several weeks ago during a routine visit to the farm.
"The unhealthy and dangerous conditions at this small dairy are severe," said water board executive officer Pamela Creedon in a press release. "The vast majority of dairy operators in the Central Valley work hard to follow good management practices, and blatant disregard for the law impacts both surface and groundwater, posing dangers to public health and polluting the waters of the State of California."
Inspectors found a number of other water quality concerns, including eroded paths where wastewater had flowed off the property and into a nearby drainage ditch, excessive weeds and rodent holes, and multiple discarded veterinary medical supplies, including syringes. Inspectors also found evidence of cropland being used as a dumping area for manure wastewater from the lagoon, according to the press release.
The owner of the dairy, Franklin Rego, said the cows had been buried there for three or four years after the animals got sick and died because of a bad batch of feed. When the cows died, Rego had some of them taken away by a rendering company. However, concerns about mad cow disease years ago left the job undone, he said.
"Once they decomposed, I was dumbfounded," he said. "I didn't know what to do. We were clueless of what do with them. We only found out yesterday of what do with them on the (water board's) website."
Once cows and other animals decompose past a certain point, rendering plants can no longer take them, said Robert Busby, regional water board spokesman. In this case, the carcasses must be taken to a specific landfill that is state-certified to accept the waste.
This was the first time since 2007 that the Rego dairy had been inspected, said Busby, adding this kind of violation "happens but the board is not aware of it happening too often. There are 1,600 dairies in California. We inspect which ones we can on a regularly basis."
Rego said he and his family won a lawsuit against a Land-O-Lakes subsidiary that sold them the bad cow feed. But he said the money received from the lawsuit barely covered his losses from losing the cows and from other expenses.
The family plans to put the farm up for auction in about 30 days, he said. "It's just the dairy business. The banks don't work with anybody. It's been a rough five years. We're getting out of the business."
The water board is investigating the dairy's impacts on water quality, and the California Department of Fish and Game is reviewing the affects on local aquatic life, Busby said. The state is also requiring Rego to conduct his own study of water quality impacts.
(c)2012, the Merced Sun-Star (Merced, Calif.)
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