Whatcom County berry farmer, Gurjant Sandhu, has agreed to pay a reduced fine after being penalized for illegal water use and not supplying water records for two farms in the Nooksack River basin. The watershed provides critical habitat for threatened migratory fish as well as water for people and farmers with legal water rights.
In 2016, the Washington Department of Ecology fined Sandhu $90,000 for illegally watering his 220-acre raspberry farm, and $12,000 for not submitting required water use records for his 120-acre blueberry farm. Sandhu denied the allegations and filed an appeal to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.
Under the settlement with Ecology, Sandhu will pay $80,000, install water meters that provide Ecology with real-time water use data, and allow officials access to the property. If any of the terms of the settlement are violated within three years, Sandhu is required to pay the original $102,000 in penalties, and potentially be subject to other additional penalties.
“Settlements save staff time and expenses, and – most importantly – help us arrive at a resolution that’s better than a penalty alone” said Kasey Cykler, water master for Ecology. “Water is an important natural resource for people, farms, and fish. Farmers in Whatcom County work hard to obtain legal water rights. It’s our responsibility to keep a level playing field.”
Apart from the Settlement, Sandhu is proceeding with securing legal water rights for his raspberry farm.
The settlement was submitted to and accepted by the Pollution Control Hearings Board.