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Orchardist who watered illegally during the 2015 drought agrees to improve fish habitat

The owners of a southeast Washington orchard who irrigated illegally during the 2015 drought have agreed to make improvements to the Touchet River to improve habitat for threatened steelhead.

Warren Orchards, a junior water right holder, continued to water a 100-acre pear and apple orchard in Columbia County after being ordered to stop by the Department of Ecology. The orchard illegally diverted water from the Touchet River over a period of 44 days, state officials said.

As part of the settlement, the Warrens agreed to take 20 acres of orchard out of production and place them into a conservation easement. Habitat restoration work will be done on the property by the Snake River Salmon Recovery Board and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The Warrens appealed the original $73,530 fine to the Pollution Control Hearings Board before reaching the settlement with the state.

The Warrens will be paid for the conservation easement by the Blue Mountain Land Trust, but the amount is $20,000 less than the appraised value of the land.

As long as the terms of the settlement are met, the Warrens will pay $30,000 and the rest of the fine will be excused after two years.

The settlement was approved by the Pollution Control Hearings Board last week.


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