The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 29
Scott Collin, Five Corners Family Farmers, (509) 947-2067
Rachael Paschal-Osborn, Center for Environmental Law and Policy,  (509) 209-2899
Andrew Lewis, Sierra Club,  (206) 940-8346

Family Farmers Challenge State and Corporate Feedlot Operation Over Water

Huge industrial feedlot threatens groundwater

OLYMPIA, Washington

Third and fourth generation Franklin County farmers today filed a
lawsuit to protect their water and way of life from a massive
industrial feedlot. The feedlot will pump more than a million gallons
of groundwater per day total from an area otherwise closed to new
groundwater withdrawals. Five Corners Family Farmers, a group of
dryland wheat farmers whose families have been farming since the 1900s,
asked the Thurston County Superior Court to tell the Washington State
Department of Ecology to stop an industrial feedlot -- which plans to
process 30,000 head of cattle -- unless it can legitimately get a
groundwater permit.

Easterday Ranches Incorporated is taking advantage of the state's
new interpretation to build an industrial feedlot on traditional
farming land. The state Attorney General, Rob McKenna, compelled the
Washington Department of Ecology to reverse years of limiting the
amount of water a feedlot could use without a permit, when he issued an
opinion that feedlots could use unlimited amounts of groundwater for
watering their stock with no permitting required. The state will now
allow the operation to pump up to 600,000 of its total million gallons
a day in one of the driest counties of the state, without regulation
and without protection for neighboring wells and springs. That is more
than 1,000 times the amount of water an average eastern Washington
household uses.

"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," said Scott Collin, a dryland wheat farmer
living and farming within sight of the planned cattle operation. "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."

Washington state's groundwater laws require a permit for groundwater
use to protect people who already have wells and to protect streams
that are connected to or replenished by groundwater. For 60 years, the
Department of Ecology allowed only a limited exception to the permit
requirement for certain rural homestead uses. In 2005, after the
attorney general issued his opinion in response to questions from state
legislators in rural Washington, the state abruptly reversed its
long-standing position and now claims it is unable to regulate
groundwater used for "stockwatering" no matter how large or
industrialized the use is.

"The state has opened a loophole in the law that you can drive
30,000 cattle through," said Janette Brimmer, an attorney with
Earthjustice who is representing the farmers in court. "Water is life
in eastern Washington, and we're simply asking the court to restore
fairness and reason to the law."

Joining Five Corners Family Farmers in the lawsuit are The Center
for Law and Policy, a Washington water protection group, and the Sierra
Club, a national environmental organization.

"The law is not being applied fairly," said Rachel Paschal-Osborn,
Director of The Center for Environmental Law and Policy. "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."

"Throughout the West, water supplies are running out -- leaving
people, rivers, fish, and communities high and dry," said Andrew Lewis,
Chairman of the Sierra Club's Cascade Chapter. "We support the farmers'
request to restore fairness to the law."

Additional Information

Scott Collin is the Secretary of Five Corners Family Farmers and a
fourth generation dryland wheat farmer in Eastern Washington. In 1906,
Scott's great-grandfather, Asa Moore, settled in Franklin County on a
dry homestead where there was no well. Cisterns were filled by mule
teams hitched to a water-wagon, which hauled water 15 miles from the
Snake River, up a long tortuously steep grade. Scott's Grandmother,
Josephine Coordes, bought the property where he now farms and resides,
a mile south of the proposed feedlot property. The primary asset of
Scott's ranch when his grandmother bought it was the domestic well.
Scott and his family have been using careful water and soil
conservation farming practices for more than 100 years to grow dryland
wheat without irrigation.

Read more information about the stockwatering loophole

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.