ELTOPIA, Washington — Farmers in rural Franklin County express concern that a 30,000-head cattle feedlot could threaten their already low water supply. According to the AP, local agriculturalists worry that the feedlot could dry up their wells. Although most wells require a permit, some remain exempt. A 2005 opinion by Attorney General Rob McKenna allows ranchers unlimited access to water supplies.
While the farmers are concerned, Mr. Easterday — whose business is proposing the lot — believes he has taken scarce water resources into account. He intends to tap into an aquifer deeper than most farmers in the area access. Easterday won the backing of county planners and the state Department of Ecology with his plan. But the Ecology Department recently clarified that the approved water usage scheme provides water for the cattle, not dust control — an important provision to most rancers, but one which would require four times as much of the resource.
“We’re afraid of our wells going dry because of the amount of water they’ll be pumping out. On irrigated land, that’s nothing, but here on dry land, that’s a lot of water,” farmer Blaine Dougherty said. Doughtery farms the land his grandfather purchased seventy years ago. Still, Easterday maintains that the feedlot — the first in three decades in the Northwest — will sow more benefits that it will sour. “In Franklin County, agriculture is king,” he quiped. “Any time we can create more agriculture in Franklin County, it’s a good thing.”
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