By the Herald editorial staff
Easterday Ranches Inc. should be operating a feedlot in the Eltopia area soon, now that a Franklin County judge has dismissed a lawsuit regarding how much water the operation would use.
The controversy over the feedlot has revolved around interpretation of state water laws. Farmers neighboring the feedlot site were concerned about their wells drying up. It is estimated that the feedlot will draw 300,000 gallons per day.
Superior Court Judge Carrie Runge determined that the statute regulating how much water can be used for livestock operations is "clear and unambiguous." That means the cattle company doesn't need a water permit and can't be regulated on the amount of water used for the health and well-being of the cattle at the feedlot.
Attorney General Rob McKenna issued the same opinion in 2005, saying the state can't limit the amount of water used by ranchers and feedlots.
In building the state's first new feedlot in decades of this scale -- 30,000 head, Easterday Ranches has jumped through many hoops and seemingly gone the extra mile to on research.
Of course, that was in the company's best interest. As Cody Easterday told the New York Times, "I wouldn't build a $10.5 million feedlot if I thought I'd run out of water."
Approvals from the various agencies and local governments required for the operation had all been affirmed, and the lawsuit over the water permit had been the final hurdle to opening the business. Construction is already under way.
Water has been an issue for farmers and ranchers for centuries. But the battle between farmers over the new feedlot was a strange twist in water-related drama. Usually, you find farmers united against a government agency or an environmental group when water is in debate. In this case, the farmers opposing the feedlot joined forces with environmentalists.
With the issue now put to rest, we hope Easterday Ranches continues to be a good neighbor to those in the Eltopia area. The feedlot is expected to employ 40 people and generate $60 million annually in tax revenue.
Mid-Columbia farmers also will benefit from the demand for feed for the cattle, with Easterday Ranches estimating they it need to buy $20 million a year in hay, corn and other products.
Franklin County has become a hub for food processing, adding jobs and improving the state's agricultural economy overall. Continued investment by Mid-Columbia farmers and ag processing companies makes the region stronger and advances the state of agriculture -- large-scale feedlots included.
Let's face it, we all need to eat. And knowing where your food comes from is important. The Tri-Cities is surrounded by agriculture, but many folks don't give it a lot of thought. Water brought this desert into fertile production and it continues to help our economy gain momentum, from vineyards to farmers markets to livestock production.
This feedlot has been debated, and the rulings have come down squarely in favor of allowing it to be built. It's time to move forward.
And for those of you heading north on Highway 395, thinking you're smelling cattle around Eltopia -- they're not there yet. You're getting a whiff of the egg farm up the road.