ELTOPIA, Wash. — Farmers fighting farmers. Over water. In the arid West.

Sure, it’s a saga many years old, but a new twist is brewing on Washington’s rural nonirrigated lands, where fourth-generation farmers plant wheat and pray for rain. Sometimes there’s a harvest – sometimes not – but they soldier on in homesteads whose only water supply comes from wells deep underground.

Some now fear their wells could dry up if a 30,000-head feedlot moves onto neighboring land in southeast Washington’s Franklin County.

“Our main concern is our water. If we go dry, we have no recourse,” said Blaine Dougherty, who with his brother still farms the land his grandfather bought in 1938.

Under laws dating back 60 years, the state allows some wells to be drilled without a permit, as long as water usage is held to 5,000 gallons per day. They include livestock watering, small industrial uses, domestic use or noncommercial watering of a small lawn or garden.

But in 2005, Attorney General Rob McKenna issued an opinion that barred the state from limiting the amount of water that ranchers draw daily for their livestock. Critics immediately argued it opens the state’s water resources to unlimited use by large dairies and feedlots.

Enter Easterday Ranches Inc., one of the largest feedlots in the Northwest with 30,000 cattle near Pasco. Easterday has proposed building a similar feedlot on empty land near Eltopia, a tiny town east of the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Full Story: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1110ap_farm_scene_feedlot_furor.html