Franklin County farm faces steep penalty for illegal irrigation

Franklin County
Image credit: WA Dept. of Ecology

PASCO, Wash. — A Franklin County farm owner is facing a hefty fine of $304,000 for irrigating this year’s crops using water that was sourced illegally from the Snake River.

According to an alert issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology, 250 acres of crops owned and operated by Frank Tiegs LLC were irrigated using water sourced from the McNary Pool—a section of the Snake River that meets the main stem of the Columbia River.

Investigations show that the farm began sourcing its water from the McNary Pool starting in March 2021 when farmworkers tilled the land and planted crops for a new season.

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The Department of Ecology inquired about this water use during the Summer of 2021. DOE officials say that representatives of the farm acknowledged the error and committed to finding a legal water supply for the 2022 season.

Irrigating water from the McNary Pool threatens streamflows in both the Snake and Columbia Rivers, which are crucial for the region’s salmon and steelhead populations. Being that the Summer of 2021 brought extreme heat and dry weather conditions across the state, the fish passage was already compromised prior to this disruption.

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Authorities say that Frank Tiegs LLC has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Pollution Control Hearing Board. This illegal irrigation is being pursued by Ecology officials due to a rule requiring mitigation for new surface water withdrawals.

Eastern Washington farmers braved the same consequences that threatened the region’s fish passage: Excessive heat and a harsh drought.

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