DeVries Dairy Denied Water

Published in the Herald-Republic on Saturday, February 23, 2002



DeVries Family Farms has been denied the water rights necessary to operate its 2,300-cow dairy east of Moxee.

The state Ecology Department on Friday reversed a Yakima County water-rights board that had recommended in December the dairy be permitted to transfer existing water rights for use on the dairy.

The decision is the latest in a string of challenges to the dairy and its operation. The DeVries family has contended it has made good-faith efforts to comply with local and state agency requirements.

Ecology officials said the approval by the Yakima County Water Conservancy Board and the legal notices published prior to its review contained too many errors for the department to do anything other than turn down the request.

The dairy had filed requests to transfer four water rights to the DeVries family and change the purpose of use from summer to year-round use. The requests also sought to switch use of the water from one part of the property to another.

The agency said in a four-page decision the published notices mentioned only a change in the place of use, not the switch from agriculture to dairy use. In addition, the three-member board failed to include language in its written recommendation authorizing the transfers the dairy had requested from the previous owner.

All the board did was adjust the amounts of water and the acreage on which the water could be applied, said Dan Haller, an Ecology engineer in the Yakima regional office.

"Their decision reads as if they were planning to approve the transfers, but they stopped short of doing that," Haller said.

The agency also said the board failed to address whether any of the water rights in question had been given up by non-use, and whether water to be consumed by the dairy would harm other water rights in the area.

Members of the Water Conservancy Board could not be reached for comment.

Conservancy boards, which exist in several counties, were established by the Legislature to help reduce the backlog of requests to transfer existing water rights. Board decisions are a recommendation to the Department of Ecology, which can approve, modify or deny the request.

Friday's decision means the dairy has no valid water rights and could be subject to daily fines of $100 for continuing to use water, said Joye Redfield-Wilder, Ecology spokeswoman in Yakima.

No decision has been made on whether the fines will be imposed, she said.

Tom DeVries, one of the owners of the dairy, said the family likely will appeal the decision to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board, which hears appeals on water issues.

He said he had not had a chance to discuss the decision with his attorney. The DeVries' attorney, Brian Iller of Kennewick, was out of town Friday and could not be reached for comment.

"I guess we will have to talk it through and see what impact it has," DeVries said. "I'm not sure what to make of it."

DeVries also said the Ecology decision violated a settlement between the department and Tim Dennis, the previous owner of the dairy property.

The settlement to a 1997 lawsuit Dennis filed against the department indicated Ecology would approve the transfers unless substantial new information showed use of wells on the property would damage existing rights.

Redfield-Wilder said the settlement agreement does not prohibit the agency from reviewing all aspects of the transfer requests for compliance with state law.

Lorre Gefre, a neighbor and longtime critic of the dairy, applauded the action.

"Ecology looked at all the evidence and, given what they had, made the right decision," said Gefre, a member of a group called Concerned Morningside Citizens.

The dairy has had numerous run-ins with neighbors as well as county and state regulators since the DeVries family sought county permission in 2000 to open the dairy, which is along State Route 24 about 15 miles east of Yakima.

As recently as last week, another local citizens group -- Washington FARM -- sued the dairy, alleging numerous violations of the terms of an agreement that settled two lawsuits the group filed in the fall of 2000 against the dairy over water use and its environmental review.

Yakima County regulators have issued several corrective notices to the dairy.

Both the county and Ecology sought to shut down the dairy last year over inadequate water rights. A Benton County judge issued an injunction halting the county's order. An appeal of the Ecology order led to a Pollution Control Hearings Board ruling last September that supported the department. The board said the DeVries dairy was limited to 5,000 gallons of water per day. The dairy later asked the board to reconsider its decision.

As of last summer, the dairy was consuming between 39,000 and 56,000 gallons of water per day, according to the Pollution Control Hearings Board ruling.

The status of the request for reconsideration couldn't be determined Friday.



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