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Eye On Olympia

Posts tagged: water

The water wars: Franklin County farmers sue over large feedlot’s water demand…

Local farmers today filed a lawsuit against a large-scale feedlot in Franklin County, saying that the cattle operation could use hundreds of thousands of gallons of groundwater a day in one of the driest areas of the state.

The case could mushroom into more than just a Franklin County water fight. A critical change in water law came when Attorney General Rob McKenna — widely assumed to be a future candidate for governor — issued a controversial opinion in 2005. Wells for watering livestock have for decades been exempt from many water regulations, but the state Department of Ecology had long said that such wells are limited to pumping 5,000 gallons a day. In response to a query from Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls and then-Rep. (now Sen.) Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, McKenna, however, said that Ecology didn’t have the right to automatically limit such wells to 5,000 gallons. (McKenna also, however, noted that Ecology could step in and impose limits on any water withdrawal in critical problem areas. He also pointed out that lawmakers can modify water law however they wish.)

Now, according to the Spokane-basede Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Easterday Ranches Inc. wants to build a feedlot for up to 30,000 head of cattle, using the stock-watering exemption to pump up to 600,000 gallons a day.

“after over 100 years of conservative farming on some of the driest land in Washington, our lives and our livelihoods are in jeopardy from this huge industrial feedlot,” dryland wheat farmer Scott Collin said in a press release announcing the lawsuit today.

(The full text of the press release is below, after the jump.)

Another dispatch from the water wars…

There’s another interesting farmers-versus-environmentalists water battle shaping up in the statehouse this year.

Farm groups are backing a reform that sounds utterly common-sense: changing decades-old laws that require farmers to use every drop of their water allocation or, after a few years of failing to do so, losing that valuable water right.

“It’s better to leave it in the ground than pump out on the ground and let it evaporate,” Craig Grub, with the Spokane County Cattlemen, told lawmakers at a yearing recently.

But it’s not that simple, environmental groups responded. They say that allowing people to sit on their water rights indefinitely, instead of putting them to beneficial use, would allow people who don’t actually need water to keep an unfair hold on it.

State Rep. John McCoy, D-Marysville, repeatedly made it clear that he wants wells metered to ensure that people aren’t pumping too much.

“Without meters,” he asked cattle ranchers, “how can you tell us that your’e conserving water and only using what you’re supposed to?”

A new round of an old fight: water dispute pits cattle industry against environmental groups…

Environmentalists and cattlemen clashed Thursday over a decades-old law that allows largely unlimited pumping from wells – with no permit – as long as the water is used for livestock.

To ranchers, that’s a common-sense exception that helps agriculture and dates back many decades.

To environmental groups and some Indian tribes, it’s a glaring loophole that’s being wrongly applied to industrial-scale feedlots.

“We don’t have water left to be giving away exempt water rights in large quantities,” Spokane environmental attorney Rachael Paschal Osborn told state lawmakers Thursday. If the Legislature wants to encourage the cattle industry and feedlots, she said, “they can go out and buy a water right just like everyone else in this state.”

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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