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Large California Grower Illegally Expands Orchard Seven Acres Into Fresno River/Patrick Ricchiuti could face U.S. EPA fines of $37,500 per day for federal violations

Release Date: 04/01/2009
Contact Information: (Media*) Mary Simms, (415) 947-4270, simms.mary@epa.gov

(SAN FRANCISCO – 4/1/2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a violation notice and compliance order to Patrick Ricchiuti, president of P.R. Farms, following the discovery of the grower’s illegal expansion into the Fresno River. Ricchiuti bypassed flood control levees, illegally filling an area approximately 2,300 feet long and 45-250 feet wide and encroaching more than seven acres into the Fresno River.

The EPA has ordered Ricchiuti to immediately remove all unauthorized fill material and restore the levee in accordance with the specifications of the Fresno River flood control project.

"This action will protect the Fresno River from illegal encroachments," said Alexis Strauss, Water Division director for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. "We shall oversee restoration of the site and ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act."

Ricchiuti owns assessor’s parcel numbers 033-160-001 and 033-160-002, near Avenue 16 and Road 21 in Madera County, California. The Fresno River forms the southern boundary of the property and is an integral part of a flood control project overseen by multiple federal, state, and local authorities.

The EPA, along with state and county inspectors, inspected the site after receiving information that the property owner had filled in the bed and bank of the Fresno River. During their investigation, inspectors observed that earthen material had been placed within the Fresno River to create a new levee and fill area along the northern bank of the River, and that an asphalt road and an orchard had been placed on top of the fill area.

Ricchiuti placed dredged and fill material into the Fresno River without a Clean Water Act section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The permit program, which is co-administered by the Corps and EPA, regulates the filling of federally-protected waterways and wetlands to ensure that proposed projects would cause the least environmental harm and be protective of the public. Unauthorized encroachments such as Ricchiuti's can exacerbate flooding potential and damage important flood control infrastructure. Persons who fill federally protected waterways and wetlands without the requisite Clean Water Act permit could face a daily penalty of up to $37,500.


The Fresno River, which is approximately 68 miles long, is a major tributary of the San Joaquin River. Flows in the reach of the Fresno River along the property are regulated by releases from Hidden Dam and augmented by storm events between October and March and periodic agricultural return flow. The Fresno River flows either directly or via the Chowchilla Canal Bypass to the San Joaquin River, which flows to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and then San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

For more information on EPA’s wetlands enforcement program web please visit: http://www.epa.gov/region09/water/wetlands/regulatory.html

Press Conference Details
The EPA will host a telephonic press conference today to discuss this recent enforcement action.
Reporters who would like to participate via telephone should RSVP via email to simms.mary@epa.gov NLT 10:30 a.m. PT to receive an access code for the call. Please include name, affiliation, and contact information. Reporters should begin calling in at 11:30 a.m. PST. The call-in number is: (415) 947-8522.

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U.S. EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region now has a group on LinkedIn. The group will provide those who subscribe an opportunity to stay up-to-date with the latest happenings at U.S. EPA Region 9. Join the group here: http://www.linkedin.com/e/vgh/1823773/