Monterey Mushrooms, defending a lawsuit claiming it polluted a creek, says “catastrophic winter storms” caused the runoff, and it is working to solve the issue.

Monterey Mushrooms Inc., Watsonville, Calif., faces a $67 million environmental protection lawsuit filed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, according to a news release from the office.

The company is accused of pumping wastewater from its storm-water holding pond and process-water-holding tanks into Fisher Creek near its Morgan Hill facility. This happened a number of times over two years, according to the news release. 

The creek flows into Coyote Creek, where steelhead trout, California tiger salamanders and California red-legged frogs live. It’s a waterway that flows into San Francisco Bay.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen alleges dozens of unfair business practices and California Department of Fish and Wildlife violations. 

“Businesses should never make illegal and dangerous trade-offs between pollution and profit,” Rosen said in the news release.

Monterey Mushrooms is “shocked and disappointed” at the complaint because the company has already been working on resolving the issue with the Attorney General’s Office, discussing it as recently as November, according to a statement by Bruce Knobeloch, Monterey Mushroom’s vice president of marketing and product development.

Investigators from the state Fish and Wildlife Department and county Attorney General’s Office report dumping from early 2016 to the spring of 2017. The Morgan Hill facility also allowed contaminated storm water from compost processing and used compost areas to flow into waterways, according to the county Attorney General’s news release. Overflow pipes, culverts and hoses diverted wastewater into fields, which then flowed into Fisher Creek, according to the county news release, and other pipes pumped wastewater directly into Fisher Creek. 

On two of several occasions documented — Jan. 7-8, 2017 — investigators estimate that Monterey Mushrooms pumped approximately 700,000 gallons of wastewater into Fisher Creek in 48 hours. In one instance, the wastewater contained ammonia as nitrogen at 90 milligrams per liter, according to the county news release. The Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for “acute toxicity” is 17 milligrams per liter.

The issue stems from a deluge of winter storms in late 2016 and early 2017, the same time Coyote Creek overflowed and flooded areas within Santa Clara County and the Oroville Dam crisis occurred, according to the company’s response statement.

“Our Morgan Hill facility was inundated by these record storms and rainwater volume, which resulted in a record release of process water, primarily rainwater, leaving the property,” according to Knobeloch’s statement.

The company has been working with county and state agents, spending millions of dollars to install additional storage and engineer the separation of stormwater, according to the statement.

“Monterey Mushrooms has a long history being a responsible member of the community and is committed to the highest standards of environmental compliance,” according to the company statement.