Environment

RD Offutt Farms sues White Earth Nation over water permits

An irrigator waters potato plants
In the suit, RD Offutt Farms claims that White Earth does not have authority to regulate non-Indigenous concerns or individuals.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

The largest potato farmer in the country is asking a federal judge to rule that the White Earth Nation does not have the authority to require farmers to get tribal water permits.

RD Offutt Farms, based in Fargo, filed a lawsuit Friday against White Earth asking a judge to issue a declaratory judgment.

In May 2023, the White Earth Nation passed an ordinance requiring farmers with irrigation wells within the reservation boundary or in a five-mile buffer surrounding it to apply to the White Earth Division of Natural Resources for a permit.

In the suit, RD Offutt Farms claims that based on previous Supreme Court rulings, White Earth does not have authority to regulate non-Indigenous concerns or individuals.

Minnesota regulates groundwater use and RD Offutt Farms has the required state permits to irrigate farmland.

The lawsuit claims RD Offutt Farms’ groundwater withdrawals “have not had, and will not have, a direct effect on the political security, economic security, or health and welfare of the White Earth Band.”

The suit claims the White Earth ordinance “poses an immediate threat to RDO Farms,” because the company must seek a permit by May 5 or run the “catastrophic risk” of not being able to grow potato crops on the land this year.

White Earth Nation officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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