Ecology fines Skagit Valley Farm over illegal irrigating

The Washington state Department of Ecology has fined Skagit Valley Farm $267,000 for irrigating 348 acres without having water rights.

The crops unlawfully irrigated in 2021 were in the lower Skagit and Samish watersheds, according to a news release from the agency, the Skagit Valley Herald reported.

"The violations occurred during a drought and on the heels of a historic heat wave in a watershed where low stream flows threaten endangered salmon species," Ria Berns, northwest regional manager for Ecology’s water resource program, said in the release.

Irrigating fields without water rights hurts farmers who comply with water rights laws and salmon that need stream flows to be at a certain level, she said.

Skagit Valley Farm has 30 days to appeal the fine to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

The crops that were irrigated unlawfully were worth about $1.7 million, the agency said.

Skagit Valley Farm operates on about 3,100 acres of farmland in Skagit County and other areas of the state, according to the release. Noncompliance with water rights laws poses a significant risk to the environment, the release states.

"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.

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