Environmentalists appeal water right transfer
An environmental group is appealing a new water right granted to a hospital district that plans to sell the associated property to an Eastern Washington farm.
The Okanogan Wilderness League filed the appeal with the Washington Pollution Controls Hearing Board. The water right would irrigate 2,780 acres and was issued by the Washington Department of Ecology to the Kennewick Public Hospital District, which does business as Trios Health in Kennewick, Wash.
The league wants the permit for 4,000 acre-feet of water a year invalidated and asks Ecology to impose streamflow conditions or mitigate the permit, said Rachael Paschal Osborn, attorney for the league and former executive director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy,
“There are inadequate flows in the Columbia River due to overallocation for irrigation and the impact of dams,” Osborn said.
The league claims that selling the land to Easterday Farms would violate the Family Farm Act, which limits the issuance of new water rights for irrigation to farms with holdings of less than 6,000 acres. Easterday Farms has more than 14,000 acres, according to a company website. The company raises onions, potatoes and grain products for livestock in Easterday Ranches feedlots.
It is unclear whether the farming operation would also purchase the water right. Easterday Farms did not respond to requests for comment.
Lisa Teske, director of marketing and business development for Trios Health, said the company has a letter of intent to sell the property to Easterday Farms.
“We are aware of the appeal and our legal representation is drafting a response,” Teske said. She declined to comment further until a response is prepared.
The current provisions of the water right are associated to the hospital district’s ownership, said Joye Redfield-Wilder, spokesperson for Ecology. The water right could be sold with the property or separately.
“The provisions of the water right must be maintained in any change or transfer and would be something evaluated at that time,” she said.
Redfield-Wilder said the department’s report of examination approves the hospital district’s request for a water right from the Columbia River, since the permittee will be required to meet conditions to ensure that use will not cause adverse impacts on river fisheries resources.
Ecology is weighing its options, Redfield-Wilder said. An appeal doesn’t automatically stay the issuance of a permit. The Pollution Controls Hearing Board will decide whether to grant a motion for a stay if the league makes such a request.
Osborn expects a prehearing conference within the next month.