Farmers file lawsuit to limit water use at feedlot near Eltopia

Some Franklin County farmers are challenging how much water a new 30,000-head feedlot near Eltopia is allowed to use.

The farmers who live near the Easterday Ranches feedlot contend that their wells and water use are at risk because they likely are drawing from the same aquifer, according to the lawsuit.

The Washington Supreme Court heard arguments last week in the lawsuit filed by farmer Scott Collin and Five Corners Family Farms.

The farmers are asking the court to rule that the amount of water drawn for cattle at the $10.5 million feedlot should not be unlimited.

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Sierra Club also have joined Five Corners Family Farms in the appeal.

Easterday Ranches -- one of the Northwest's largest feedlot operators -- is using a state law passed in 1945 that says the company is exempt from needing a permit if it is tapping into ground water for animals.

The law says water use must be limited to 5,000 gallons a day. But a 2005 opinion from Attorney General Rob McKenna says the state can't limit how much water ranchers and feedlots draw for livestock.

The water is used for drinking, feeding and cleaning the cattle and their stalls.

The farmers appealed a Franklin County Superior Court decision that upheld the exemption.

Cody Easterday of Easterday Ranches told the Herald last year that four individuals involved in the appeal are challenging everything they can to try to stop his company's project.

The feedlot is on 100 acres of Easterday's 960-acre property in rural Franklin County.

Easterday Ranches said it's using water from a well drilled into the Grande Ronde aquifer, while it claims the wells used by the Five Corners Family Farms are in the Wanapum Aquifer.

The company also said it bought 316 acre-feet of water rights from a neighboring farm for the feedlot, according to court documents. The feedlot likely will use 505 acre-feet per year for watering animals, according to court documents.

Easterday Ranches filed a cross appeal, claiming that other courts made a mistake in not dismissing the lawsuit, not awarding attorney fees and costs to Easterday and not throwing out inadmissible evidence from the Five Corners Family Farms, according to court documents.

Washington and the Department of Ecology also are named in the lawsuit.

The Supreme Court will issue an opinion in the case at later date.