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Local farm fined by DOE

A Lower Yakima Valley farm operation was recently fined $10,000 by the Washington State Department of DOE for drawing water out of two underground aquifers, an act that can affect water levels.

Spring Creek Orchards of Sunnyside was penalized for deepening a well without permission and drawing water out of both the Saddle Mountain and Wanapum aquifers in the Yakima River Basin.

DOE issued the penalty to the farm for violating a state law designed to protect underground water resources.

According to DOE, the well in question was first drilled in 1978 and is used to irrigate 80 acres of land near Prosser. The well originally drew water from the Saddle Mountain aquifer, one of three aquifers within the basalt flows beneath much of Central and Eastern Washington.

DOE claims that sometime between 1978 and 1993, the well was deepened into the Wanapum basalts. Since that time, the well has been drawing water from both aquifers. Wells constructed this way allow water to move continuously from one aquifer to another.

The two aquifers in question have different water table elevations and the well drains water from the Saddle Mountain aquifer downward into the Wanapum aquifer. According to DOE, if continued for a long time, this could deprive Saddle Mountain water rights holders of their water supply. Many irrigators use wells within the Saddle Mountain aquifer to supplement water supplies from the Roza Irrigation District and in emergency drought situations.

DOE notes that in March 2004, the agency issued Spring Creek Orchards a notice of correction, informing farm owners that the barrier between the two major aquifers was removed when the well was deepened. The farm was given until April 1, 2005 to remedy the condition and prevent the movement of water between the aquifers. The breach between the two aquifers was discovered during an inspection of well report documents.

"It's important that our aquifers remain intact to prevent contaminants from moving between aquifers and to make sure one water withdrawal doesn't impair other water rights," said DOE Water Resources Manager Bob Barwin.

Attempts by Daily Sun News staff to contact Spring Creek Orchards representatives for comment were unsuccessful.

Spring Creek Orchards has 30 days to pay the penalty, apply for relief from the penalty or appeal the penalty to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.

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