Four landowners near Moses Lake, Washington, have been fined $618,000 for illegal water use. The water was pumped from the Odessa aquifer, which has been in severe decline for more than 30 years.
Over the summer, Washington’s Department of Ecology sent at least nine notifications and inspected one property before they issued cease and desist orders to landowners.
“The land where they applied water to grow alfalfa, Timothy hay and potatoes didn’t actually have any water right authorizations,” Ecology spokesperson Brooke Beeler said.
More than 500 million gallons were pumped out of the aquifer. According to Beeler, that’s enough water to serve 4,000 homes in the region for a year.
“Really, illegal pumping at this magnitude is unfair to other farms that rely on the groundwater, It’s unfair to homeowners and rural households that rely on that," Beeler said. "It’s bad enough because the Odessa itself is such a significant aquifer that we know needs our help.”
Since 1980, groundwater in the Odessa aquifer has dropped more than 200 feet. In 2004, the Washington Legislature passed a law that limits groundwater use when landowners have access to surface water from the Columbia River.