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Snohomish farmer says water district extorting him by shutting off water during negotiation

Jay Hagen says he's carrying water to some of the animals on his farm after the Cross Valley Water District shut off their water. (Image courtesy Barbara Carlson)

A Snohomish farmer is carrying buckets of water to his animals after he says the water district shut it off over a dispute they were having.

Jay Hagen says their bill is all paid up, but they’ve been trying to negotiate with the utility over the cost of installing a new meter. The farm has two rental houses on the property that the district reportedly says should be on a separate meter.

“They want $11,178,” says Hagen. “I know for a fact it’s about $6,000 for the water meter.”

Not willing to pay the $11,178 without understanding all the charges, he contacted Cross Valley Water District to see what the other $5,000 is for.

“They came back and said you’re on a state highway, the state charges that,” says Hagen, who says he then went to the state and asked why they were charging him $5,000. “They said, that’s incorrect, we are only charging you a maximum of $250.”

He went back to the water district to find out about the disparity. He told them he’d like to see an itemized explanation for the fee.

“They said it’s for surveying, it’s for engineering, it’s for bonding, and some miscellaneous fees,” says Hagen. “I said, well that’s fine, explain to me, what is the surveying for? Who’s doing it and how much? What is the engineering for? Who is doing it and how much? What are the miscellaneous fees for, how much? Why am I bonding? You’re a water company, you should be bonded.”

The David Boze Show

“How hard is it? He’s asked for an explanation,” says David Boze. “I would be asking some followup questions too.”

Listen: David Boze’s take

Following his request for further explanation, Hagen says he was just sent another $11,178 bill with no additional information. The dispute escalated when he says the utility shut off water to a portion of their property on Aug. 12.

Hagen says they currently have no water in their house and they’re making due by taking showers in the barn, but 49 of their animals are without water from their normal source. “I’m hauling about six to eight five-gallon buckets a day.”

He says regardless of the impact on him, he’s not going to let the animals suffer as a result of this. “I might suffer, but my animals never will. It’s going to be hard work for me.”

He also worries about fire danger. They had a barn fire many years ago and he says it’s a horrible thing that you never forget.

“Fire protection is probably the biggest concern I have,” says Hagen. “If a fire was to start in the barn, I have no way to put it out.”

Hagen says they’re not sure when their water will be turned back on. They’ve asked for information about the water shutoff policy, but say they were told by the district that there is no policy. At this point, Hagen thinks they’ll have to take it to court.

“Really what it is, is we’re going to have to go to court and force them to turn the water on. That’s the only option I guess we have because they don’t have to negotiate. They manage through threats and intimidation and retaliation.”

KIRO Radio Editor Frank Shiers contributed to this report.

Correction Aug. 25:

A previous version of this story erroneously reported Hagen was hauling 68 buckets of water daily. He’s hauling six to eight buckets daily.

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