On Tuesday, August 15, 2017, the Justice Department announced that a long-running clean water act dispute had finally come to an end. John Duarte and his business, Duarte Nursery Inc., have agreed to pay a civil penalty, while also taking steps to preserve and restore waterways to resolve violations that took place on property located in Tehama County, California.
Duarte will be required to pay $1.1 million in civil penalties for 22 aces of disturbed streams and wetlands. He has also agreed to take steps to permanently protect creeks on the property that are linked to the Sacramento River. In 2016, a federal court found that Duarte was liable for violating the Clean Water Act. The agreement gives Duarte the right to begin using most of the land for production once again.
The case is connected to activities carried out by Duarte after he purchased property that had gone unfarmed for more than twenty years. The property was purchased for $5 million in 2012. Most of it was sold for $8 million, but Duarte retained around 450 acres for his own personal use.
Before the purchase, Duarte was shown detailed maps identifying federally-protected streams and wetlands on the property. The waterways took up less than ten percent of Duarte’s remaining property. Nevertheless, Duarte hired a contractor to begin ripping throughout the land. This took place, despite his own environmental consultant warning him that he would face stiff penalties for ripping without a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
In 2016, Duarte’s “plowing” defense was rejected by a federal court. It was determined that no plowing had taken place on the site for at least 24 years. Simultaneously, it was concluded that the ripping activity had transformed water and wetlands to dry land. The settlement acquires a significant penalty for the violations, while still providing fairness to other farmers that remain in compliance with the applicable laws. The United States promises that the case will not be used as a pretext for future federal prosecution of farmers engaging in normal plowing on their lands.