Inspectors from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board Central Valley Region on May 1 discovered cow carcasses and a “significant amount of cow bones” in several burial sites at the Reeve Road Heifer Ranch, 21070 Reeve Road, which is operated by Henry Tosta, and at Tosta’s dairy farm located nearby at 20662 San Jose Road.
According to the inspection report, an excavation in a crop field revealed “two mature cows were being buried; a very strong odor of decaying flesh was also noted in the area” immediately adjacent to the Main Drain Canal of the Naglee-Burk Irrigation District.
The water board issued a cleanup and abatement order that established several deadlines for which Tosta needed to design and implement a plan for removal of all the carcasses, bones and several feet of manure that was reported in areas on the farms.
Robert Busby, public information officer for the water board, said Thursday, July 5, that Tosta has missed a June 25 deadline to submit plans for manure removal and a Tuesday, July 3, date to submit legal proof, including receipts, that he has removed the animal carcasses.
Busby said that water board inspectors visited the farm July 3 and reported that “some of the work was done.”
He said Tosta’s consultant on the project “verbally promised” to staff that legal proof would be submitted to the water board “sometime next week.”
“We’re going to continue to track the progress and implement our progressive enforcement as needed,” Busby said.
The water board is discussing exercising its legal right to impose fines of up to $5,000 a day, Busby said. He also noted that the water board is communicating with the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office about the case.
“The clock is ticking,” he said.
Tosta allegedly admitted to inspectors that he buried four to six dead cows a week for five or six years if the farm’s rendering company wouldn’t accept them due to smell or bloating, the report states. The agency estimated, based on Tosta’s statements, that 240 to 436 cows were “buried in or directly above groundwater at this location.”
Once in the ground, a carcass can begin to release fluids that can contaminate the groundwater table, which drains into the San Joaquin River Basin, the report states.