RICHLAND — A farmer in Franklin County has been fined $304,000 by the Washington state Department of Ecology for irrigating 250 acres without rights to the water.

Frank Tiegs LLC has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Washington state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

Ecology said the illegal water use threatened stream flows on the Columbia and Snake rivers, which are critical rivers for salmon and steelhead. This year was one of the driest and warmest on record in Washington with streamflows and fish passage already compromised, according to Ecology.

The farm built pipelines and two 125-acre irrigation pivot systems to water previously unfarmed land out of the McNary Pool of the Snake River in the irrigation season of 2021, the penalty notice issued this week said.

Ecology asked the landowner in August about the water rights and the farm said it was irrigating the acreage and that it was a mistake. Discussions began to remedy the issue, with reduced irrigation elsewhere on some fields.

Since 1993, the Columbia River has been managed under a rule that requires mitigation for new surface water withdrawals.

But a check Sept. 20 showed some of the proposed irrigation practices were not being implemented as reported, according to the penalty notice.

The penalty amount is for $2,000 per day for 152 days of illegal irrigation, according to the document.