Department of Ecology News Release - December 27, 2016

Berry grower fined for illegal water use in Whatcom County
Penalties of $90,000 and $12,000 follow years of noncompliance

BELLINGHAM – A Whatcom County berry grower illegally watered raspberries and failed to submit required water use records, negatively impacting legal water users and flows in the Nooksack River basin.

The Washington Department of Ecology is fining Gurjant “George” Sandhu for separate violations on two farms he operates in Whatcom County. The first penalty is $90,000 for illegally irrigating a 220-acre raspberry farm. The second is a $12,000 penalty for not submitting water use records for a 120-acre blueberry farm.

At his raspberry farm, Sandhu irrigated for at least two years without approved water rights for most of the property. Ecology attempted to work with Sandhu to bring the farm into compliance with the law, but he declined assistance. A cease and desist order was issued in March after he expanded the farm and continued to plant raspberries and install irrigation equipment in areas without legal water rights. Ongoing illegal irrigation was documented by Ecology staff this past summer.

Separately, Sandhu failed to submit accurate water use data at his blueberry farm, despite being required to do so by an earlier settlement for illegal water use, an enforcement order and a provision of his seasonal water right. Over the course of several irrigation seasons, Sandhu submitted calculations of water use, which Ecology staff found to be inaccurate and unreliable based on site visits. Ecology repeatedly asked for real meter data and did not receive it. Accurate water use data is essential to demonstrating that irrigators are staying within their legal water rights.

Since 2011, Ecology’s Bellingham Field Office staff have been trying to help Sandhu, who owns several berry farms in Whatcom County, comply with the law. Staff have received numerous complaints from concerned citizens and water right holders about Sandhu irrigating beyond his authorized amounts.

Sandhu’s farms are located in the Nooksack River watershed, which is one of 16 basins considered critical for providing habitat for threatened migratory fish in Washington. Illegal water use can negatively affect Nooksack River flows and people with legal water rights. Many farmers in Whatcom County have worked hard and made investments to obtain legal water rights. Ecology is working to ensure a level playing field.

Sandhu can appeal the penalties to the Pollution Control Hearings Board within 30 days.

Contact:

Kristin Johnson-Waggoner, communications, 360-407-7139, @EcologyWA