In Washington, certain kinds of wells for certain uses such as domestic, stockwater and some manufacturing and noncommercial, can be drilled and used without a permit. A 1945 state law established that, and limited water extraction to 5,000 gallons per day. A 2005 state attorney general opinion, however, concluded that "the first proviso to RCW 90.44.050 makes it plain that groundwater withdrawals for stock-watering are exempt from the permit requirement, and that the exemption is not limited to withdrawals of less than 5,000 gallons a day." Withdrawals for stock water, in other words, could virtually be without limit.
That's the water backdrop for Easterday Ranches' plan to double the size of its 30,000-head of cattle feedlock northeast of Pasco. Easterday has obtained a water right (approved June 11) from the state Department of Ecology for controlling dust and for cooling cattle, a transfer the former Pepiot water right, to the location near Eltopia (north of Pasco). But it also plans to drill a well to water the cattle, probably drawing more than 5,000 gallons daily.
That in turn has led to a counter-reaction. On June 30, a group of local farmers (including a group called Five Corners Family Farmers) and several environmental groups (including Earthjustice and the Sierra Club) filed a lawsuit at Olympia to challenge the state's interpretation of the well law. From their release: (more…)