A blueberry farm on Cockreham Island along the Skagit River has been cited for illegally watering 200 acres of blueberries this summer after repeated warnings from the Washington Department of Ecology to cease the illegal use.
Ecology has fined U.S. Golden Eagle Farms $16,000 for unauthorized use of public water resources. The company has rights or claims that allow irrigation on 250 acres, but watered at least 450 acres this summer on its farm between the communities of Lyman and Hamilton.
Inspectors estimate the farm used between 210 and 267 acre-feet of water beyond its authorized 470 acre-feet per year. Excessive watering was documented during four visits to the farm this summer. An acre-foot of water is the amount of water that covers an acre of land, one foot deep.
The citation is not directly tied to last summer’s severe drought, which caused historically low stream flows in the Skagit basin. The low river levels triggered irrigation water cutoffs that affected thousands of acres of cropland along the Skagit’s lower reaches below Mount Vernon.
U.S. Golden Eagle Farms has been warned numerous times that they were using more water than allotted. Ecology has provided the company with information about the scope of water rights for its fields on Cockreham Island since 2011.
The company filed an application on May 29, 2015 to modify its water rights and claims to allow watering of all of its blueberry acreage, starting in 2016. Ecology expects to act on the request, after public review and comment, prior to this year’s growing season.
Ecology oversees Washington’s water rights system to ensure that water is available for people, farms and fish.
U.S. Golden Eagle Farms can appeal the penalty to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.