Ecology says farm illegally irrigated raspberries

of Washington State UniversityA Western Washington raspberry grower plans to appeal fines he recently received from the state Department of Ecology.

A Whatcom County berry grower has been fined $90,000 for illegally irrigating raspberries and $12,000 for not submitting metering records, the Washington Department of Ecology announced Tuesday.

Gurjant “George” Sandhu said through his attorney that he plans to appeal the penalties.

Ecology alleges that most of a 220-acre raspberry farm in Bellingham that Sandhu irrigated in 2016 does not have a water right. He has rights to irrigate 35 acres, according to Ecology.

Ecology estimates Sandhu had to irrigate his Crystalview Raspberry Farm at least 90 days.

Because of past violations by Sandhu and the seriousness of this one, Ecology said it would have been justified in fining Sandhu up to $5,000 per day, but used its discretion to fine him $1,000 a day.

He also is accused of not supplying 24 reports on the water he used over 12 weeks at a 120-acre blueberry farm in Ferndale in 2015.

Ecology fined him $1,000 per week, but said it could have penalized Sandhu $5,000 for each missing report.

Sandhu’s attorney, Lesa Starkenburg-Kroontje, said in a statement that the berry farmer has tried to work with Ecology.

“Mr. Sandhu has invested significant resources to work with the Department of Ecology to farm agricultural land in Whatcom County, and he is frustrated that his efforts have resulted in a penalty notice received by mail,” she stated.

Starkenburg-Kroontje said an Ecology press release contained “several statements of new information that differ from Mr. Sandhu’s facts.”

She did not elaborate.

The Ecology press release said Sandhu irrigated his raspberry farm for at least two years without water rights for most of the property.

Sandhu declined Ecology’s offer to help bring him into compliance after the 2015 irrigation season, according to Ecology.

According to the penalty notice, Ecology learned over the winter that Sandhu planned to convert 14.5 acres of trees into crops. Ecology ordered Sandhu in March not to irrigate beyond his water rights. The department says it documented illegal watering over the following summer.

Sandhu’s farms are in the Nooksack River watershed. Ecology said it has received complaints from water-right holders about Sandhu’s irrigating.

The penalties were finalized Dec. 16. Sandhu has 30 days to file an appeal to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.

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