Anna Franz: Bringing Specialized Water and
Municipal Law Expertise to Irrigation District
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Anna Franz: I grew up on a farm in the Odessa subarea of the ECBID. Our family has been farming there since 1902. I went to the University of Washington for undergrad and law school and then came back to eastern Washington, where I was introduced to Richard Lemargie, with whom I worked for quite a few years. He represented the three irrigation districts of the Columbia Basin Project (CBP).
Irrigation Leader: What inspired you to study law?
Anna Franz: My grandfather was an architect in Seattle, and his friends were attorneys and judges, so it was always a career path on my horizon. Seeing the challenges and
environmental issues facing our agricultural community
made me see the need for an advocate who understood that
community. I never envisioned myself doing what I’m doing
now, but the fun thing about law is that it opens a lot of
opportunities we’re not always aware of.
Irrigation Leader: Would you tell us about your relationship
with Mr. Lemargie and what you learned from him?
Anna Franz: At law school, I learned a lot of theory, but not
a lot of practical application. He was my main mentor in
learning the practice of law. A lot of the core practices and
tips I use in my career are tools I learned from him.
Irrigation Leader: How does working with irrigation districts
fit into your broader practice?
Anna Franz: My firm focuses on municipal law as it relates
to cities and small special purpose districts, such as the
ECBID. Over the years, I’ve focused more on the irrigation
side of the practice. It includes working with elected
officials, developing programs, and making sure practices
and policies are compliant with state and federal law.
Irrigation Leader: Does that fall under the broader category
of water law, or is water law only one aspect of what you do?
Anna Franz: That’s really just one aspect of what I do.
Representing the ECBID and Columbia Basin Hydropower
involves water law, irrigation district law, some power issues,
and broader municipal law. A substantial portion of my
practice is also devoted to municipal representation, which
involves reviewing contracts, drafting ordinances, doing code
enforcement, working with our law enforcement agencies on
compliance, and meeting other standards that government
agencies must comply with.
Irrigation Leader: What would you say is distinctive about
Anna Franz: One benefit of municipal practice is witnessing
the change your contributions make in the community.
The ECBID’s new 47.5 pumping plant delivery system
is near my family’s farm. When I drive by, I can see the
physical representation of the good I’m contributing to the
community. I see the streets and other public works projects
that have been built and the neighborhoods that have been
cleaned up through code enforcement activities.
Irrigation Leader: What are the main types of cases you take
on for irrigation clients?
Anna Franz: With the ECBID, a lot of the work I’m
involved in relates to the development of the Odessa
Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP). The
ECBID’s 47.5 pumping plant project included developing
the rate structures to support the municipal bond that
financed the installation. That involves a lot of legal
compliance, including making sure the whole program
conforms to the irrigation district statutes of Washington
law, which is a distinctive challenge since some of those
statutes go back to the inception of our state and involve
some archaic language. Trying to figure out how those older
statutes work with modern issues has been a challenge, and
we sometimes work with legislators to clarify the language
in those statutes. Columbia Basin Hydropower is working to
negotiate new power contracts for the existing plants whose
current contracts are reaching the ends of their 40-year terms and is working to development additional hydropower
resources within the CBP.
Irrigation Leader: Do you work to ensure that the irrigation
district’s water rights are respected? Where are the potential
disputes you’re trying to resolve?
Anna Franz: The ECBID doesn’t own its water rights. They’re
held by the United States for the benefit of the three CBP
districts. One recent challenge for the ECBID was securing
the water rights for OGWRP. This required negotiations with
the Bureau of Reclamation to amend the master water service
contract and establish the authority to deliver the water to
those acres. Developing these water rights requires working
not only with Reclamation but with the State of Washington
to determine how those water rights work and how they
can be applied, which includes legal interpretation and the
clarification of statutory and permit language. Now that the
water for OGWRP is secured, the current step is to build the
systems for delivery. That requires establishing the program
for constructing delivery systems and pumping plants on the
East Low Canal and establishing rate structures and rules and
regulations for landowners. Having developed the foundation
for OGWRP implementation, we are now moving forward to
the design, construction, and funding phases on the different
delivery systems. We’re working with the bond council to
secure financing. We’ve been working with the Washington
Department of Ecology and other state departments that
administer grants funded by the state legislature to make sure
our programs are compliant with those grant requirements.
We have also been looking into federal grant funding
opportunities. We are also working on the public works
contracts for the construction of those delivery systems.
Irrigation Leader: When you work with irrigation districts
and municipal agencies, how much of your work is litigation
and how much relates more to helping them comply with
Anna Franz: Our city clients are generally more involved
in litigation, especially in the area of code enforcement.
For the irrigation districts, we largely provide transactional
services and advice, but there are times when litigation
is required. Some of the issues that have required
litigation include defending the rates, tolls, and charges
imposed by the district; assessment foreclosures; and the
encroachment by landowners on project easements. Public
works contract issues involve litigation aspects as well,
especially considering that these are major contracts in the
multimillion-dollar range. That said, it always benefits the
client to make reasonable attempts to resolve issues without
resorting to litigation, and that is often successful.
Irrigation Leader: What issues is urbanization posing for the
irrigation entities you work with?
Anna Franz: We don’t have the types of urbanization
problems you see with the Tri-Cities’ irrigation districts,
but there are some as the local cities have started to grow
into the agricultural areas. One of the emerging issues
relates to when and how land is included or excluded from
the irrigation districts. The exclusion statutes are old,
and Reclamation doesn’t have an established process to
exclude land, so when subdivisions are developed on former
agricultural areas with no exclusion process, the result is that
each of the owners of property in the subdivision has a right
to participate in irrigation district elections, even though
they may not receive water from the irrigation district.
There are also operations and safety issues relating to canal
infrastructure running through residential areas.
Irrigation Leader: What current trends do you think will
influence your irrigation clients?
Anna Franz: I think they will continue to be affected by trends
involving regulatory burdens and the protection of our supply
of water. Washington State is preparing for an adjudication
that could affect our water rights. We’ve got increasing
environmental burdens, including the impact of the new total
maximum daily load for temperature on the Columbia River.
We’ve also had some struggles with delays on projects caused
by cultural resource compliance and other federal requirements.
They are huge administrative burdens that often take a long
time to resolve, equating to additional costs for landowners.
More broadly, we need to secure our internal food supply
in the United States. Looking at the potential effects of
climate change, we need to be more protective of our
agricultural resources and to make sure we can supply water
in the future at a cost that is affordable for landowners.
Irrigation Leader: What influence has your background on a
family farm had on your work?
Anna Franz: I identify with our landowners. I know the
struggles they face, because they are the same struggles my
family faces. It’s increasingly difficult to work in agriculture,
and there is not a lot of understanding of that on the part
of other people in our society. I think the burdens our
agricultural producers are facing are foreign to the average
U.S. citizen. That’s why it’s easy to shift additional burdens
onto the industry without thinking of the consequences.
Every decision the irrigation district board makes affects the
landowners, and it’s important that our directors have all the
information they need to continue to make good decisions.
Because of my background, I understand what the practical
implications will ultimately be and how they will affect the
people we serve in the irrigation district.
Irrigation Leader: What kind of skills should an irrigation
district look for when searching for an attorney?
Anna Franz: Experience is key to understanding the
legal issues and the clients. If you don’t understand the
implications of a policy, you cannot serve the best interests
of your client. Some level of background and experience
with the agricultural community is key. That insight comes
from my work with Richard Lemargie; he didn’t grow up on
a farm, but he worked on farms growing up, and he always
reminded me that we were serving the landowners and
needed to advocate for their interests in our practice.
Irrigation Leader: What advice do you have for new
attorneys who are interested in getting into water law?
Anna Franz: Any opportunity to gain experience in the
industry and get out in the field is important. Before you
go to law school, it would be beneficial to work within the
ag industry. My first summer in law school, I interned with
the Washington Environmental Council. That was good
exposure to other perspectives that I had not experienced
before. During that internship, I participated in lunch
seminars with the interns and attorneys at EarthJustice. That
was a unique opportunity to learn about and understand the
things the groups we often oppose are thinking. There’s a lot
of misunderstanding, and you can become a more effective
advocate for your side if you know where the other side is
coming from and try to either build common understandings
and compromise or engage in direct opposition.