Department of Ecology responds to concerns from BiZi Farms

DOE officials says farm needs to test its well, among other things, in order to acquire water rights

A representative for the state Department of Ecology said a water rights application by BiZi Farms in Vancouver has not been denied, that the application is still in the process, but the farm owners have not completed the process.

A spokesman for the state Department of Ecology said an application for water rights from BiZi Farms has not been denied, but the farm owners have not completed the process to obtain the rights.

Over the weekend, a social media post from representatives of the farm detailed their frustration with the state, noting that BiZi Farms’ application for water rights was denied. Bill Zimmerman, co-owner of the farm, went into further detail in an interview with Clark County Today on Monday. 

(Also read: https://www.clarkcountytoday.com/news/future-of-bizi-farms-threatened-by-water-rights-issue/)

Jeff Zenk, a spokesperson for the Southwest Regional Office of the state’s Department of Ecology, said Wednesday morning that there were inaccuracies in Zimmerman’s descriptions.

“He has chosen to circumvent the process through a social media campaign,” Zenk said. “We stand ready to help Mr. Zimmerman, but he has to follow the law like everybody.”

At issue is a water well that the farm has used since the early 1900s. 

Zenk said the department has sent a “technical assistance letter” to the farm, noting the farm is exceeding the limit on the amount of water it can use without water rights.

“Mr. Zimmerman is watering his 100-acre fields with his domestic water well. Not supposed to exceed 5,000 gallons a day. He’s using his well well above that,” Zenk said.

Zenk said there have been no fines levied against BiZi Farms, and BiZi Farms can still work the process.

That process includes testing on the well, to determine its impact on fish and wildlife as well as the rights of existing water rights holders. The department has asked Zimmerman to put a meter on the well, to determine exactly how much water is being used.

“We don’t have it out for Mr. Zimmerman. It’s an unfortunate situation,” Zenk said. “It’s not ecology’s fault. It’s not Mr. Zimmerman’s fault. It’s the circumstance, and it’s the law. Can’t pretend there isn’t a problem here. We have to treat everyone equally and fairly.”

The Zimmerman family has been farming in Clark County since the 1800s. The well predates the state water code. Bill Zimmerman said Monday he thought his father had applied for water rights years ago, but once he realized that the farm did not have water rights, Bill Zimmerman turned in his application in 2009. Zimmerman said he got notice in November of 2020 that the application was denied.

Zenk said that is not the case. The application is still pending. But until Zimmerman completes the tests and puts a meter on the well, there is no way the department can issue water rights. If the farm continues to use more than 5,000 gallons a day from the well, Zenk said the farm is operating illegally.

If the family had applied for water rights decades ago, Zenk said there might have been the possibility of having “grandfather” rights approved. That did not happen, though, so this is where it stands.

“That’s unfortunate for Mr. Zimmerman, but it’s also the law,” Zenk said. “Can’t just water because you’ve been watering there. The law says you need water rights if you exceed 5,000 gallons a day.”

Zenk said there are ways for the farm to resolve the issues.

  • Follow through with the testing on the well and complete the process to secure water rights.
  • Hook up to the Clark County PUD water main to water the farm.
  • Purchase water rights from other water rights holders.

Zimmerman said Monday that all of those options are costly.

“Nobody wants to shut Mr. Zimmerman down,” Zenk said. “We’re sympathetic to his situation. He’s not being singled out or treated any differently.”

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Travis Hunter
Travis Hunter
9 months ago

Complete bureaucratic bs . They’re trying to force him to pay more money to own his land and use the well. And/or force him to sell it to a developer. Where they make money on excise tax of the sale of the land, then levy taxes on each lot owner and likely end up with 1000 lots they can profit off in many many ways. Aka- impact fees, permit costs etc etc etc that the county or state gets from the development of that land.

They want him charged more to be there and that’s why they’re saying hookup to Public water. Fill our pockets and you can stay. They want more money. It’s been owned for far to long by this family and the county/state hasnt gotten enough to leave them alone and let them conduct business as one of the local small business favorites.

How about you can’t tell a man how much of HIS well water he can use a day. If he runs it dry, that’s his issue to sort through.

Justin
Justin
9 months ago
Reply to  Travis Hunter

If he runs the well dry he runs it dry for all users. DOE has a responsibility to monitor usage as well as the PUD. This Zimmerman guy should have been planning to meter his system back in the early 2000’s. Doesn’t sound like he is a fair player or smart farmer if he has ignored a known issue for decades and turns to social media to spill a false narrative! Water is a valuable resource and it’s not his resource, the family just tapped into it years ago. We need to ensure the resource is there for generations to come. Feel bad for the guy but this is the wrong way to go about it.

Cole
Cole
9 months ago
Reply to  Justin

”This Zimmerman guy” is a pillar in the community who has farmed since early 1900’s. His generational family has greatly invested selfless blood, sweat, labor, and kinship into Clark County. Obviously, a developer complained that his row houses, squeezed together like sardines, would have to hook up to public water, why not Zimmerman, so goes the squeaky wheel deal. I would question why Clark County didn’t act on the permit when Zimmerman first filed, in 2009? It was in their ballpark; who didn’t do what? Without question, Zimmerman’s water issue should have & should be grandfathered in. Might be the law now, but not then. What, about this case doesn’t make sense? Hmm..

Justin
Justin
9 months ago
Reply to  Cole

No one is questioning the Zimmerman investment in the county, we need to keep all the local farms we can and the heritage alive.

The Zimmermans have been aware over a decade the improvements needed to gain water right and the additional options such as hooking up to PUD, and purchasing additional water rights from those who have made the improvements to gain them.

Zimmermans should not get a benefit that others don’t get and if they got it that would be the squeaky deal!

i believe In order to be grandfathered you need the water right to begin with , they don’t have it. this why they have been trying to get it permitted. The ball has been in their court for a decade to make improvements and get a permit processed.

Water is a valuable resource needing to be accounted for just like your bank account.

Hailey
Hailey
8 months ago
Reply to  Justin

He said he’s not able to do it because it’s expensive… we are in the middle of a global pandemic where farmers are committing suicide due to costly wages.. give the farm a break why bring it up years later when all small businesses are suffering. Can we start a go fund me so we can help him pay for his water rights testing.. they want the water he uses to be public water and not his natural well water… idk about you but I’d rather have my produce watered with well water. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Deb
Deb
8 months ago
Reply to  Cole

YES YES YES!!!! Who do you all think will FEED US if you squeeze out the family farms that produce our FOOD!!!??? California developers could give a crap if we eat or never bathe. Think it over “denny”…..wanna eat or watch house after stick house take up our prescious farm land!!!

ahoward
ahoward
6 months ago
Reply to  Justin

The well only supplies HIS farm…not a whole neighborhood. However, if there are more wells put in on that farm after development, regulation or not, that will draw far more water from the aquifer than just his one farm does. Additionally, the farmland allows for the water used in crops to return back to the groundwater, thus replenishing the supply. The natural cycle also feeds back into the other waterways in this area. The water doesn’t just “disappear” when the farm uses it, it goes back into the aquifer. Alternatively, if there is developers paving over that land, it prevents that regeneration, or rather slows it. That lack of replenishing plus the higher demand from additionally placed wells is far worse for the ground water supply than just helping this family through the process.The later option makes money for the state, so the state does what it wants. Running a farm off of a city hook up is not a feasible option, the state knows this. The fact that the DOE is “has decided that the best use of the resources is for developers and development” should be a big enough clue that they don’t have preservation of resources in mind. That whole statement is bs. They know they can make money. Look at Ridgefield. There are plenty of family farms that are perfectly compliant with all their water rights, and yet still they are being hounded to sell their land. There are companies out there with money who pull the strings. Developers basically have a claim on the land and you have to move. The fact of the matter is, he did his part, and it took the State 12 years to give him a verdict which is garbage. There are most likely options that can help the family, but the State is choosing to use it as an opportunity to push them out. Sadly, they were probably going to try and do it even if the well was legal. If you’ve lived here long enough, you would know that it’s happened out here before. That’s the issue with so many people moving into the area, is it puts a huge stress on our water supply, and creates greed. The two factors do not mesh well. So many homes in Unincorporated areas are well dependent. California already destroyed their groundwater and they’re all moving out here to gentrify Washington and do the same old thing here with the natural resources. Family land like the Zimmerman’s is simply in the way and the powers that be are just waiting to plow it over. The State has the best interest of the people with money in mind, and they actually make it very difficult to argue against them. People who’ve only lived here for 2 months and don’t understand the land they live on, yet they have more rights than and honest family business who simply didn’t understand that they didn’t have the right permit. That’s just a fact. All they see is dollar signs.

Michael Sadlier
Michael Sadlier
9 months ago
Reply to  Travis Hunter

You own the well but not the water, it is held as a public trust. Established law before there was a United States.

Hailey
Hailey
8 months ago

What’s a well without fucking water? A creepy ass hole??? Water is natural from Mother Earth it should never be controlled like this. We eat and use his business to feed our families to have our kids meet the farm animals. Go to the pumpkin patch and launch our pumpkins. Memories are made here by many and we wanna just brings laws into the matter? For what ego, control? We all know they want the land that’s the problem here. How much you wanna bet they’ve offered them money for the land every year and they deny so they don’t wanna deal with the process of their application.. they want them to have no choice. What has this society come to. You take down bizi farms and I’ll be out front protesting! 🙌🏻

Last edited 8 months ago by Hailey
ahoward
ahoward
6 months ago

Actually, a well is private and serves one user, and so is the land. There are not multiple homes or businesses using his well. It’s not public. That water is theirs. It’s not a public trust, that’s not how that works. His water is not even operated by the City.

Jerry Schwanke
Jerry Schwanke
9 months ago

Get off my a__. If others can be grandfathered in under any other circumstances so can this one. I’m an 83 year old great grandfather who was old enough to listen to FDR declare war. If this mans well can’t be grandfathered in then neither can your job!

Deb
Deb
8 months ago

BIZI FARMS
An application turned in in 2009 and STILL PENDING IN 2020?????????? Is this a serious response to a very important question for a farm to keep producing food so Clark County can have wonderful, local produce???? Sounds like somebody got a job but doesn’t know what to do with it!!!! How terrible for this multi-generation family farm!!! Shame on YOU!!!