The Washington Department of Ecology has issued a $267,000 penalty to Skagit Valley Farm for irrigating 348 acres of vegetable crops in the lower Skagit and Samish watersheds without water rights.
“The violations occurred during a drought and on the heels of a historic heat wave in a watershed where low streamflows threaten endangered salmon species,” said Ria Berns, northwest regional manager for Ecology’s Water Resources Program.
Skagit Valley Farm operates on more than 3,100 acres in Skagit County and other parts of the state. Because of the size of Skagit Valley Farm’s operations, noncompliance presents a significant environmental harm.
“We’re talking about irrigating a significant number of acres in a basin where stream flows are lowest when fish need water the most. Unpermitted irrigation in the Skagit Watershed harms farmers and water users who’ve worked to be in compliance with the law. It also threatens habitat for endangered salmonid species that need minimum streamflows to survive.” Berns said.
Based on the most recently available agricultural statistics, Ecology estimates that the 348 acres of crops irrigated in 2021 without water rights have an annual value of over $1.7 million.
“Our agricultural industry is vital to our state’s economy and we are committed to working with Skagit Valley Farm to identify viable water solutions going forward,” Berns said.
Skagit Valley Farm has 30 days to appeal the penalty to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.