- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Some northeast Oregon farmers filed a federal complaint alleging they were cheated out of water that was given to larger operations.

The growers are seeking nearly $3 million in damages and an injunction requiring the Echo-based Westland Irrigation District to properly deliver water, the Capital Press newspaper reported last week (https://is.gd/GpDVit ).

The complaint alleges that water intended for 10 small farms with senior water rights was delivered to three large operations that have junior water rights. It contends the district used several tactics to facilitate “large scale theft,” including fraudulent accounting and improper contracts.

“Defendant’s misappropriation of plaintiffs’ senior water rights has deprived plaintiffs of the opportunity to double crop their farms and shifted that lucrative opportunity to junior water rights holders in violation of Oregon water rights law.”

District general manager Mike Wicks told the newspaper that he could not speak about the pending litigation.

“Our board hasn’t had a chance to meet to discuss the complaint,” he said.

The suit says the farms that diverted more water than what’s allowed - L&L; Farms, Eagle Ranch and Amstad Farms - all span more than 5,000 acres. Those on the losing end are fewer than 1,000 acres.

Skeeter Amstad, whose family owns Amstad Farms, said it’s too early for him to comment on the lawsuit but said his company is transparent in its water use and has done nothing wrong.

“We work extremely hard to get water through all the legal channels,” he said.

Those who sued include ELH LLC, Oregon Hereford Ranch, Paul Gelissen, Maurice and Lucy Ziemer, Frank Mueller, Craig and Cynthia Parks and Richard and Kristine Carpenter.

Dixie Echeverria, co-owner of ELH LLC, said she was alerted to the problem when her company didn’t receive all the water it was entitled to this spring.

Westland Irrigation District didn’t provide answers to her questions, and the Oregon Water Resources Department’s local representative refused to intervene, she said.

The small farms sued to ensure senior water rights in the district are protected, Echeverria said.

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Information from: Capital Press, http://www.capitalpress.com/washington

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