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Originally posted in the Irrigation Leader Magazine. Reference: https://irrigationleadermagazine.com/volume-13-issue-2-february-ws/

Anna Franz: Bringing Specialized Water and Municipal Law Expertise to Irrigation District Clients

headshot of Anna Franz, the Municipal Law expert that works for the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District
Anna Franz at her family's farm, with a view of land served by the 47.5 pumping plant.

Anna Franz is a Moses Lake–based attorney with long experience in water law and municipal law, including significant work with irrigation district clients, including the East Columbia Basin
Irrigation District (ECBID). In this interview, she tells us about the distinctive legal challenges of irrigation districts and municipalities, how she and her colleagues help them, and the trends she sees affecting them in the future.

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 municipal law?
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: How did you build your specialization?
Anna Franz: Originally, I was interested in water law and municipal practice. In law school, I took courses related to water law and small government entities. Then, I had the opportunity to join the firm Richard Lemargie had established with his partner, Jim Whittaker, in Grant County. Starting in the early 1980s, they accumulated a core group of municipal clients. I gained experience in representing those clients under Richard and with my partner, Katherine Kenison.
Anna Franz at the John W. Keys III Pump Generating Plant at Grand Coulee Dam during a reserve works tour.
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 various regulations?
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.

Anna Franz is a partner at KenisonFranz. 
She can be contacted at afranz@basinlaw.com

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