Washington Berry Grower Accused Of Illegal Irrigation Appeals Fines

Washington Berry Grower Accused Of Illegal Irrigation Appeals Fines

A Washington farmer accused of illegally watering his raspberries and failing to submit records on water use has appealed fines totaling $102,000.

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According to a story in the Bellingham Herald, Gurjant “George” Sandhu’s case will go before the state Pollution Control Hearings Board on Oct. 24-26.

The Washington State Department of Ecology fined Sandhu, doing business as Crystalview Raspberry Farm, on Dec. 16 for separate violations on two farms he operates in Whatcom County, which is located in Western Washington along the Canadian border.

The first fine was $90,000 for illegally irrigating a 220-acre raspberry farm for at least two years, Ecology said, adding that Sandhu didn’t have approved water rights for most of the property. His water rights allowed him to irrigate 35 acres, according to Ecology.

The second fine of $12,000 was for not submitting accurate water metering records for a 120-acre blueberry farm, a requirement that was part of a settlement for previous illegal water use, according to Ecology.

Sandhu has appealed both fines.

Ecology said it has tried to work with Sandhu to bring him into compliance with the law, since 2011 for the blueberry farm and 2015 for the raspberry farm.

Sandhu’s appeal said the fines were “unjust” and that his state department of ecology hadn’t presented evidence of violations.

The last time a Whatcom County farmer was fined for illegal irrigation was in 2013, according to Kristin Johnson-Waggoner, communications manager for Ecology’s Water Resources division.

“We’ve issued a few penalties in the range of $60,000 to $80,000 in other areas of the state in the recent years” for water rights violations, she said. “Generally, penalties of this amount are for significant violations where warnings, informal enforcement and other formal enforcement efforts have been unsuccessful.”

Ecology said it received numerous complaints from water rights holders and others who were concerned about Sandhu using more water than he was authorized to use for irrigation.