Landowners near Moses Lake have been fined for illegally pumping more than 500 million gallons of groundwater from the declining Odessa aquifer.
The state Washington Department of Ecology issued cease and desist orders requiring the landowners and their lessee to stop pumping groundwater in June. Ignoring the orders, they continued pumping water illegally for three-and-a-half more months to water 530 acres of crops, the state said in a release.
Ecology fined the following people:
Penalties can be appealed to the Pollution Control Hearings Board within 30 days.
Ecology said the landowners disregarded warnings and orders from Ecology, continued to illegally irrigate through the 2017 growing season and took their high-value crops to market. The estimated value of crops grown on the illegally irrigated lands is more than $1 million.
“These landowners willfully ignored the law and tapped into a vulnerable aquifer without a legal right to do so,” said Mary Verner, Ecology’s Water Resources program manager, in a release. “This isn’t fair to other irrigators who follow the law or to local communities and rural landowners who depend on this groundwater for their drinking water.”
More than $200 million has been invested by local landowners and public agencies in recent years to ease the pressure on the declining aquifer by developing sustainable surface water supplies.
The Odessa aquifer has been rapidly declining since 1980. Groundwater has dropped more than 200 feet, forcing local farmers and homeowners to drill wells deeper to reach the diminishing water supply, Ecology reported.
The Legislature passed a law in 2004 that prohibited using water from the dwindling Odessa aquifer for irrigation when water from the Columbia River is available through the irrigation district.
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