Washington Denies Stock Watering Petition

The Washington Department of Ecology denied a petition from an environmental law group opposing a water use plan for a 30,000-head cattle feedlot in Franklin County, according to a recent press release.

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP), along with the Five Corners Family Farms group, petitioned Ecology for an order declaring that the Easterday Farms feedlot cannot draw an unlimited quantity of water from a permit-exempt groundwater well. The feedlot operator proposes to withdraw as much as three million gallons of water a day under Washington state’s stock watering exemption to groundwater regulations.

CELP objects to unlimited use of groundwater for livestock watering saying the stock watering exemption doesn’t apply to commercial feedlots.

While Ecology believes commercial feedlots don’t have an unlimited exemption to state water-use law, the agency denied the petition on procedural grounds and because the agency believes questions about the stockwatering exemption are best addressed in the Legislature, which began its regular session on Jan. 12.

Procedurally, state law doesn’t allow Ecology to issue a declaratory order adversely impacting other parties unless they concur in writing. Because the Easterdays have not provided written consent, Ecology has no choice but to deny the petition.

In a Jan. 9 letter to Rachael Osborn, CELP’s executive director, Ecology Director Jay Manning explained the basis for denying the petition, and invited her to participate in the legislative process on the stock watering issue.

“During the 2009 legislative session, Ecology will be engaging with legislative leaders to encourage them to review and consider amending the groundwater exemption generally and the stock watering exemption in particular,” Manning wrote.

In the meantime, Ecology is assisting Easterday Farms in attempting to find a water right for the company to purchase and transfer to its proposed facility. With a water right, the company wouldn’t need an exemption from state water-use law.

In December 2008, Manning wrote a letter to feedlot operators and agricultural organizations, reiterating Ecology’s support for livestock businesses provided they obtain the necessary permits, including water-use permits. Manning also stressed the need for collaboration to ensure prudent management of limited groundwater resources.

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