Industrial Feedlot Water Use Threatens Family Farmers in Washington

A group of family farmers in Washington state have filed a lawsuit with the Washington State Department of Ecology in a bid to stop plans for a huge industrial feedlot (up to 30,000 head of cattle) which will pump a million gallons of groundwater per day and threaten the livelihood of dryland wheat farmers in the area.

Image: KankoWheat Field
Wheat Field

“After over 100 years of conservative farming on some of the driest land in Washington, our lives and livelihoods are in jeopardy from this huge industrial feedlot. The state of Washington is inclined to twist the law to allow the project to proceed, so we have no choice but to act in order to protect our families, our livelihood and our way of life.” – Scott Collin, a dryland wheat farmer

The area in dispute in Washington state is closed to new groundwater withdrawals, and the new feedlot’s water use would draw heavily on the limited water resources of one of the driest counties in the state without regulation or protection for neighboring wells and springs.

The feedlot, a project of Easterday Ranches, is taking advantage of an interpretation of the state’s water use laws by state Attorney General Rob McKenna, which reversed the policy of limiting the amount of water a feedlot could use without a permit. The state now claims it is unable to regulate groundwater used for “stockwatering” regardless of how large or industrialized the water use is.

“The state has opened a loophole in the law that you can drive 30,000 cattle through. Water is life in eastern Washington, and we’re simply asking the court to restore fairness and reason to the law. – Janette Brimmer, attorney with Earthjustice

The group fighting the feedlot is composed of third and fourth generation Franklin County farmers, some of whom have been on the land for 100 years, growing dryland wheat without irrigation. The Five Corners Family Farmers is being supported in the lawsuit by Earthjustice and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

“The law is not being applied fairly. Thirty thousand cows in an industrial feedlot can get groundwater with no oversight, but neighboring farmers and towns can’t get water even when they follow the rules.” – Rachel Paschal-Osborn, Director of The Center for Environmental Law and Policy

Written by Derek Markham

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