A Wenatchee-area fruit processing company has agreed to reduce the copper and zinc it discharges into the Wenatchee River and pay $150,000 for projects that improve local water quality under a settlement agreement with Columbia Riverkeeper.

U.S. District Judge Rosanna Peterson approved the settlement in Washington's Eastern District on Jan. 7.

In a lawsuit filed in December 2018, Riverkeeper claimed that Crunch Pak, which makes pre-sliced apples and other apple snacks at its Cashmere facility, had been violating state and federal water laws for more than five years by discharging copper and zinc into the Wenatchee River at levels unhealthy for fish. The Wenatchee River is a tributary of the Columbia River, and home to threatened salmon and steelhead.

According to a news release from Columbia Riverkeeper, copper is toxic to salmon and steelhead even at very low concentrations. Discharges from the facility were also causing high turbidity by adding sediment to the water, which can lead to harmful bacterial growth, it said. Crunch Pak failed to collect and analyze industrial stormwater pollution, which is required under state and federal rules, it says.

"Since receipt of the notice of intent to sue letter, Crunch Pak has invested significant efforts and resources in reducing its discharges of stormwater associated with industrial activity and in improving the quality of the discharges that remain," the settlement states. Those efforts include hiring engineering consultants, purchasing stormwater treatment systems and routing some stormwater to an infiltration pond, it says.

Under the agreement, Riverkeeper releases all claims in its lawsuit, and Crunch Pak did not admit to any of the allegations.

The company did agree to pay $150,000 to the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, to be used for projects that will benefit water quality in the Columbia and its tributaries north of Wenatchee, including the Wenatchee, Entiat, Chelan, Methow and Okanogan rivers.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.