Farmer Fined $304K Over Alleged Water Theft During Drought

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) — A farm in southeastern Washington has been fined $304,000 by the Washington state Department of Ecology for irrigating 250 acres (101 hectares) without rights to the water.

Frank Tiegs LLC in Franklin County has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Washington state Pollution Control Hearings Board, The Tri-City Herald reported.

Ecology said the illegal water use threatened stream flows on the Columbia and Snake rivers, which are critical rivers for salmon and steelhead.

The farm built pipelines and two 125-acre (51-hectare) irrigation pivot systems to water previously unfarmed land out of the McNary Pool of the Snake River in the irrigation season of 2021, the penalty notice issued this week said.

Ecology asked the landowner in August about the water rights and the farm said it was irrigating the acreage and that it was a mistake. Discussions began to remedy the issue, with reduced irrigation elsewhere on some fields.

Since 1993, the Columbia River has been managed under a rule that requires mitigation for new surface water withdrawals.

But a check Sept. 20 showed some of the proposed irrigation practices were not being implemented as reported, according to the penalty notice.

The penalty amount is for $2,000 per day for 152 days of illegal irrigation, according to the document.

Frank Tiegs didn't immediately respond to a Tri-City Herald request for comment.