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Landowners Illegally Drain 500 Million Gallons of Water From Declining Washington Aquifer

Washington landowners are facing stiff penalties after illegally pumping more than 500 million gallons of water from a declining aquifer.

December 19, 2017

Four Washington landowners in the Moses Lake area are facing stiff penalties after illegally pumping more than 500 million gallons of water from a declining aquifer.

That illegally pumped water could have provided water to more than 4,000 homes for a year.

The Odessa aquifer in central Washington has been rapidly losing water since 1980. But that didn’t stop the four  landowners from illegally using the water to irrigate their alfalfa, timothy hay and potatoes last season.

The Washington Department of Ecology fined the four more than $600,000, altogether. The department estimates those crops may have been sold for more than $1 million.

The landowners irrigated their crops for 3.5 months after the department ordered them to stop.

An ecology spokeswoman said these fines are among the largest issued for illegal water use. The department identified the four individuals as Michael Schmidt, Ron Fode, and Randy and Michele Kiesz.

“These landowners willfully ignored the law and tapped into a vulnerable aquifer without a legal right to do so,” said Mary Verner, Ecology’s Water Resources program manager, in a news release. “This isn’t fair to other irrigators who follow the law or to local communities and rural landowners who depend on this groundwater for their drinking water.”

Over the years, people have had to drill deeper and deeper wells to get drinking water from the aquifer.

In 2004, the state Legislature passed a law that prohibited people to use water from the Odessa aquifer for irrigation if they are otherwise able to get water from the Columbia River.

State, federal and public agencies have invested more than $200 million to slow the aquifer’s decline and make it easier to get water from the Columbia River. They’ve spent money on projects like widening irrigation canals to help farmers get irrigation water to their crops.

The landowners have 30 days to appeal the fines.


Washington Dept. of Ecology Irrigation equipment sits idle on fields in the Kittitas Reclamation District in Central Washington in early September.

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Michael Schmidt passed away in 2012. If the land in his name was being farmed it was being used illegally and without the knowledge of the executors of his estate. No one should have been using that land.

Please do actual journalistic research before you publicly slander someone. If you look up the property with the county, it says IN CARE of someone else. That's because my dad passed away several years ago and we have been in litigation in courts ever since about his properties. My father was a great man and to see his name in connection with this, it eats me alive. He was the most giving and selfless man ever. My sister and I are the executors of his estate and first time hearing about this was this article I saw posted on Facebook at random. That land was not farmable to our knowledge as we were told it had no water rights which was why my dad didn't farm it while he was alive