Whatcom berry farmer fined for illegal water use

Raspberries The Bellingham Herald

A Whatcom County berry grower was fined $102,000 for illegally watering raspberries and failing to submit records on water use.

The Washington Department of Ecology fined Gurjant “George” Sandhu for separate violations on two farms he operates in Whatcom County. The first fine is $90,000 for illegally irrigating a 220-acre raspberry farm. The second is a $12,000 penalty for not submitting water use records for a 120-acre blueberry farm, according to the agency’s news release.

At the raspberry farm, the department said Sandhu irrigated for at least two years without approved water rights. Ecology attempted to work with Sandhu to bring the farm into compliance, but he refused assistance, according to the news release. At the blueberry farm, Sandhu was required to submit accurate water use data as part of a settlement for illegal water use.

Sandhu’s attorney, Lesa Starkenburg-Kroontje, said in an email that Sandhu plans on appealing the penalty notices.

“Mr. Sandhu has invested significant resources to work with the Department of Ecology to farm agricultural land in Whatcom County and he is frustrated that his efforts have resulted in a penalty notice received by mail. The news release by the Department of Ecology contains several statements of new information that differ from Mr. Sandhu’s facts,” Starkenburg-Kroontje said.

According to the news release, Ecology’s Bellingham office has tried to work with Sandhu since 2011. Sandhu owns several berry farms in the Nooksack River watershed, which provides habitat for migratory fish in Washington state.

Sandhu has 30 days to appeal the penalties to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz