The Washington Department of Ecology has issued a $12,000 fine to RAN General Partnership for illegally irrigating about 40 acres of crops in Whatcom County in June and July of 2023.
Despite being informed of the lack of water rights, provided technical assistance multiple times, and being issued a cease-and-desist order last summer, RAN proceeded to clear land, install irrigation equipment, and plant and irrigate blueberries on three parcels in northern Whatcom County. None of the parcels have water rights.
Ecology learned of RAN’s intention of farming the land, located on three parcels straddling Lynden and Sumas, through a State Environmental Policy Act notification in January 2022. At that time, Ecology informed the company that there were no water rights associated with the property.
Ecology staff continued to provide technical assistance to RAN in March 2022 before the land was cleared for planting, with additional notifications that there was no water right associated with the property and letters explaining how to apply for water rights.
RAN repeatedly ignored Ecology’s attempts to gain voluntary compliance, culminating in Ecology’s issuance of a Cease and Desist order to stop diverting surface or groundwater in July 2022.
Despite the order, RAN planted approximately 40 acres of crops in the fall of 2022 and irrigated them during the summer of 2023.
The Nooksack Basin has had an instream flow rule since 1985 and junior water right holders are often curtailed due to low streamflows.
Based on irrigation guidance developed for Washington agriculture, Ecology estimates that irrigating the RAN property requires 54.6 acre-feet – more than 17 million gallons – of water per year.
“Irrigating a high-value crop like blueberries without a water right gives RAN General Partnership an unfair advantage over other farmers in the community that work hard to obey state laws, obtain legal water rights, and curtail when streamflows are low,” said Kasey Cykler, Northwest Region manager for Ecology’s Water Resources program. “Water is a precious resource for the Nooksack Basin this time of year, and this non-permitted use negatively affects all aspects of our community — our people, farms, and fish.”