Irrigation Leader
Photo of Richard Lemargie's rolling office chair covered in memorabilia
In Memoriam,  Washington State

Remembering Richard Lemargie

He sat in meetings quietly, back straight and head perfectly upright, listening intently to every word . . . without emotion. If asked, he would offer measured, careful advice, providing great wisdom. It was several meetings later, after I kept seeing him, that I inquired as to who he was. The initial response was, “the attorney for the irrigation districts.” It was after many more years of seeing Richard in yet another meeting before I had the chance to have a conversation. His personality was as measured as his words. He was pleasant, warm, and accommodating. It was clear he was a man raised in a different era. A true gentleman. Genteel. Reserved.

I distinctly remember the day I got him to give me a smile, and I felt as though I had been awarded. I appreciated him. Admired him. Respected him. And I liked him. He will be greatly missed by the Columbia Basin Development League. He was a strong supporter and proponent for the Columbia Basin Project. Thank you, Mr. Lemargie.

Vicky Scharlau

Executive Director, Columbia Basin Development League

I had the privilege of knowing and working with Richard Lemargie for over 30 years. His loss will be felt by a large number of friends and colleagues, not only for his service with the Columbia Basin Project for so many years, but for his character, integrity, and personal influence, which garnered him the respect of all. His professional accomplishments are many. Outside his family, few had the opportunity to know him so well or valued his friendship more highly than I. I will never forget the long talks about irrigation business while traveling to and from meetings; the debates over which fly to use on our next fishing trip; or the discussions about the early history of the Pacific Northwest, for which Richard had a deep passion. Few people come along in life that one can consider to be a true friend, and for me, Richard Lemargie was one of those people.

Keith Franklin General Manager, Quincy-Columbia Irrigation District (1990–2005)

Richard Lemargie served on the board of directors for the Washington State Water Resources Association continuously during the 25 years I have represented the association before the Washington Legislature. I had the opportunity during that time to work many of Richard’s ideas for irrigation district law improvements through the legislative process and into law. He was always available to help me understand the implications of proposed language, which enabled me to explain it to legislators who didn’t grasp the nuances of irrigation district law. Richard was a strategic thinker who thought several moves ahead and always had district interests at heart. He looked for every opportunity to improve the future interests of irrigation districts by inserting language that would put districts in the best possible legal position. He often told me, “This language might not have much effect now, but in some future litigation, it will make our case.”

Mike Schwisow Director of Government Relations, Washington State Water Resources Association

Richard was a great mentor and friend. His recall of events and the history of the Columbia Basin Project was pretty amazing. When I came to South District, Richard took the time to share the background and important aspects of the project with me. I could count on his advice to handle difficult situations or to just make work simpler. He became the attorney for the South District in February 1985, serving for over 33 years. He was a family man and talked often of his children and wife. He liked to call after I had been on a hunting or fishing trip to get the details. He was a man who enjoyed the outdoors, and he could tell a good story. My favorite time with Richard was a drive we took up to the Sinlahekin Valley, near the Washington-Canadian border. He showed me his hunting camps and fishing spots, and you could tell it was one of his favorite places on Earth. His wisdom, wit, and friendship will be missed.

Dave Solem Secretary-Manager, South Columbia Basin Irrigation District

I had the privilege of knowing and working with Richard for over 32 years. Richard never drove much for many years, and since I live in Ephrata, he often rode with me to meetings in the IRRIGATION LEADER 9 tristate area. This gave me an opportunity to get to know Richard both personally and professionally. We talked business, hunting, fishing, sports, and politics of course. He always wanted to know about my family, especially about my daughters, who grew up in Ephrata and who he knew personally and supported monetarily through their school fundraisers.

Richard was an out-of-the-box thinker who was always thinking far beyond the curve. He thought strategically and always wanted to be in the best position possible when an opportunity presented itself. He approached an issue as if he were going to argue it in the court room. Richard became a vital resource to me and a wealth of historical information on the development of the Columbia Basin Project. Richard was a friend, a mentor, and a role model to me. Like a father, he could be patient and understanding while he was teaching me how to be a good district manager, but he could also be firm and serious when things had to be done differently and done now.

He always joked that his main job was to get the managers out of jail and assured us that he had a surety bond in his briefcase at all times just for that. One day while traveling back from a Washington State Water Resources Association meeting with Richard and two other project managers, I got pulled over by a young highway patrolman for speeding. Believe me, I learned that having your attorney in the car isn’t always the best thing! Richard had that young man so upset with comments like, “Is that your badge number or your IQ?” that he offered to take me to town right then. And then, Richard agreed that that is what he should do. That was another learning lesson he gave me. I learned how to talk fast and polite to get myself out of jam.

I think about Richard every day. We talked on the phone almost every day, and I miss those long phone calls that started off with business but ended somewhere in a duck blind or a fishing hole. Richard was a one-of-a-kind personality who can never be replaced.

Darvin Fales

Secretary-Manager, Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District

I will forever be indebted to Richard for the opportunity to be mentored by him in the early years of my practice and to join him as a partner for the last 3 years. He believed in the importance of investing in people and was always a ready resource for guidance for everyone involved with the irrigation districts. In dealing with the larger issues facing the irrigation districts, Richard always implemented a strategy of patience and persistence, which allowed him to successfully achieve many advances for the project over the course of his career. He was a compendium of historical knowledge and will be greatly missed by everyone involved in reclamation in the state of Washington. I will greatly miss his perspective and partnership.

Anna Franz LeMargie, Kenison, Franz and Whitaker

Richard Lemargie was a special man and friend. One that I admired and looked up to for good, sound advice. I remember the many times he encouraged me and gave me the advice I was seeking. He showed respect to everyone he encountered, especially those who had ties to the Columbia Basin Project. Whether it be irrigation managers, directors, landowners and farmers, or Reclamation personnel, he treated each and every one as a friend. So many of us are going to miss his friendliness, his legal advice, and the great man he was.

Alice Parker Former Executive Secretary/Director, Columbia Basin Development League

I’d only known Richard for the last 7 years, but when I was a new director, his historical perspective and ability to cut through the noise and confusion to help me make decisions that were intimidating and challenging was invaluable. The thing I benefited from the most in the few years I was fortunate enough to work with him was his understanding—which spanned two generations—of what irrigation means to the West. How, through vision and hard work, the desert could bloom. It was his life’s work, and his ability to articulate that passion is a gift I will always be grateful for.

John Rylaarsdam Director, Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District

A man of integrity, trust, and respect and a valuable team associate for advice and guidance defines Richard Lemargie. Richard was born at Grand Coulee Dam, Washington, and spent his early years just downstream from the dam itself. His father’s position as the Bureau of Reclamation’s regional solicitor during construction of the Grand Coulee project allowed Richard to begin his commitment to reclamation law and to the national security value of converting arid land into productive irrigated agriculture early on. I believe that all aspects of reclamation were in his DNA.

Richard focused his work on state and federal reclamation, irrigation law, and hydropower development and served the greater community by representing hospital boards, municipalities, and individual clients. He supported the arts and was deeply involved in the Washington State University Honors College.

Richard was a humble and unassuming man who offered sage advice, guidance, and direction to the irrigated agriculture community and the other civic and cultural organizations he served. The legacy of his work will live on.

Merle Gibbens

Secretary-Manager, South Columbia Basin Irrigation District (1983–1990), Grand Coulee Project Hydroelectric Authority (1990–2007)

Richard Lemargie, a water law and Columbia Basin Project zealot, had a driven passion to defend, preserve, and incrementally expand the Columbia Basin Project. He did so with his quiet and reserved demeanor. While I only had the privilege of working with Mr. Lemargie for the past 5 years, it became evident to me that he earned the respect of everyone he interacted with. He was a gentleman in every sense but tough as nails when he needed to be. I traveled frequently with Richard to meetings, and we visited frequently about the Columbia Basin Project.

I also learned that outside work, and before his eyesight was failing, we shared a passion for the outdoors. He loved to hunt and fish and was always interested in hearing updates and stories of waterfowl hunting and fishing outings. He was also willing to share information about secret hunting spots that can be real jewels for some of us. I will miss him as my copilot, historian, mentor, and friend.

Richard, my first goose in Saskatchewan this September will be for you!

Tim Culbertson

Secretary-Manager, Columbia Basin Hyropower

When thinking of any legal issue or discussion surrounding the Columbia Basin Project, my mind automatically goes to Richard Lemargie.

Richard was a fixture at all board meetings, diversion rate discussions, contract negotiations, and numerous other meetings. Having grown up on and having dedicated his life to the Columbia Basin Project, Richard did an excellent job representing the three Columbia Basin irrigation districts. Richard had a connection to the Bureau of Reclamation in his Dad, who was a solicitor for Reclamation.

Given his background and historical knowledge of the Columbia Basin Project, Richard greatly influenced how the project and its operations have been shaped over the years. Richard was highly intelligent, was a great thinker, and was always fair and represented his clients well. Reclamation will truly miss Richard. His family can be proud of how many people Richard touched over the years and the lasting legacy he left as part of the Columbia Basin Project.

Lorri Gray

Pacific Northwest Regional Director, Bureau of Reclamation

Richard, who grew up on the Columbia Basin Project and whose father had a long career as the project’s resident field solicitor during its prime development era of 1948 to 1968, was highly regarded by Reclamation employees over his entire career for treating them with respect. That high regard made him particularly effective in representing irrigation districts with Reclamation. He had a reverence born of blood and place for the epic public undertaking of the project and throughout his career sought to fulfill the promise of the project’s full development.

Tireless in his advocacy for the best interests of the three project irrigation districts he represented, he frequently forged effective alliances with Reclamation on key project issues and was equally effective in resolving differences between the districts and Reclamation expeditiously and without stoking rancor or ill will. For instance, it was Richard who almost single handedly won a significant pro-project Washington Supreme Court water rights decision styled as Department of Ecology v. Bureau of Reclamation (1992) after the U.S. Department of Justice had declined to pursue the appeal as being too difficult for the government. Richard had a keen eye for distinguishing winning arguments from losing arguments and for always responding appropriately as circumstances presented themselves.

Jack Hockberger

Former Boise Field Solicitor and Current Senior Attorney, U.S. Department of the Interior

I can give all manner of praise for Mr. Lemargie and the relationship that developed over 25 years of working with him. Simply put, he was a hard-working counselor, advocate, and historian for the Columbia Basin, Washington State, and Reclamation. The path he chose in life leaves a legacy in our industry and a void in many of our lives.

Shannon McDaniel

Manager (1990–2010), Assistant Manager (1983–1985), and Engineer (1980–1982), South Columbia Irrigation District

I had the privilege of working with Richard during my years as the regional director for Reclamation’s Pacific Northwest Region (1999–2011). While we were typically on opposite sides of the table working through a variety of Columbia Basin Project issues, there was never a meeting with Richard that I didn’t enjoy and never a negotiation at which I didn’t learn something from him (usually to my chagrin as he outmaneuvered me!). He was, as others have said, a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about the history of the project and the needs of the irrigation districts. His insights into how the project was developed and why things had been done in a particular way were always helpful and informative. He was a worthy opponent whose wisdom, professionalism, and gentlemanly demeanor will be sorely missed.

Bill McDonald Retired Pacific Northwest Regional Director, Bureau of Reclamation

Richard was a fantastic counselor, but not just as our district’s attorney. He equally provided counseling on administration, personnel, historical context, political involvement, and countless other topics, drawing on the wealth of knowledge that he had accumulated while working on the Columbia Basin Project. He almost had an unfair advantage over others on the project due to his introduction to it at as a young man through his father’s involvement as a solicitor during early Columbia Basin Project development. His recollection of historical events on the project never ceased to amaze me, and he rarely ever repeated a story unless it was requested by one of us who had forgotten the details he had previously told us.

I personally benefitted from his interest in mentoring a new manager through the first few years of my new adventure. He would frequently call to see how far my head was underwater, always proving an insight or clarity that helped me surface again with a refocused outlook. While I’m sure that his patience was frequently tested, he always maintained a calm demeanor that concealed any frustration he was experiencing. His interest and care in the success of the Columbia Basin Project permeated his counsel for the district constantly. That guidance will be missed and is irreplaceable.

Craig Simpson

General Manager, East Columbia Basin Irrigation District

The passing of Richard Lemargie signals the end of an era for the Washington State Water Resources Association (WSWRA) and all those who knew and worked with him. He was the embodiment of a true professional and was a giant in western water and reclamation law. Richard was born at Grand Coulee Dam, raised by a Reclamation solicitor, and became the attorney for all three Columbia Basin Project districts. He and his father, Paul Lemargie, played a major role in developing the legislation that established WSWRA in the early 1980s. Richard rarely missed a WSWRA meeting and was always available to provide steady counsel for any issue that came up.

He was a skilled attorney in the traditional sense, but he also knew that when there was a law that needed improving, he could get that done through the mechanisms that WSWRA provided. Rarely would a year pass that Richard did not have a piece of legislation for WSWRA to consider. Washington’s irrigation laws have Richard’s indelible fingerprints all over them. WSWRA and all its members, past and present, thank Richard Lemargie and will always hold him in the highest esteem.

Tom Myrum

Executive Director, Washington State Water Resources Association

Richard Lemargie was probably predestined to be an attorney on the Columbia Basin Project (CBP). He was born at Grand Coulee, the son of a prominent Bureau of Reclamation solicitor. In about 1977, Richard became the attorney for the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District. Later, he also became the attorney for the South and Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation Districts, as well as the three districts’ canal hydropower arm, Columbia Basin Hydropower, representing all four organizations simultaneously.

One now-long-ago episode I remember Richard for is our adaptation to the Reclamation Reform Act. While that federal law is now mostly just part of the landscape, it was the hot button issue during its heyday in the 1980s. The law contained deadline dates by which districts had to implement policies about how they would administer the new land limitation law and its regulations. Richard, like most or all other irrigation district attorneys, detested this particular law, viewing it as a unilateral alteration by the federal government of repayment contracts. Keep in mind that Richard’s father had negotiated the CBP repayment contracts on behalf of Reclamation, so I always thought that Richard saw things as if he had personal skin in the game.

There was some latitude within the law and its regulation given to the districts. While this was beneficial in the end, it created internal controversy in deciding how to implement the law locally. This was true at the East District, where it turned out there was nearly a triangle among the views of the attorney, the board, and the manager about some of the options. In the end, no one had it all their way, but there was a successful and longstanding compromise. I have always admired Richard’s professionalism during this episode. He was instrumental in crafting a durable compromise despite his strongly held personal views.

Much later, Richard was a leader in crafting agreements, changes in state laws, and Reclamation contract supplements that opened the way to bring a surface water supply to a region known as the Odessa Groundwater Subarea. This area, which for a long time was irrigated with ancient, nonrecharging groundwater, is immediately adjacent to the CBP and had long been scheduled to be supplied by CBP canals. All that had been on hold for decades. During much of the 1990s and early 2000s, the CBP was hammered politically, because of endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead listings, to reduce its water use, even though significant CBP canal system and on-farm conservation efforts were ongoing. In the early 2000s, Endangered Species Act pressures had reached the point that the state of Washington’s water resources program was also being affected.

The state reached out to the CBP to see if there was a way for the state’s needs and the CBP’s needs, and the water resources of both, to combine to craft a solution that would better satisfy both out-of-stream water users and instream needs. The entire process is too complicated for the space available here, but suffice it to say that Richard saw an opportunity for a win-win solution. Even though he had long voiced caution about broadening the uses of the CBP water right to include users outside the confines of the CBP, Richard took the lead in crafting Remembering Richard Lemargie PHOTO COURTESY OF DARVIN FALES. The "empty saddle."

Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District honored Richard Lemargie by placing his photo and other items in the chair he used during their board meetings. 8 IRRIGATION LEADER solutions with both the state and Reclamation to enable the use of water conserved on the CBP canal system for the Odessa subarea, downstream users along the Columbia River, and endangered fish. Construction of infrastructure to bring canal water to the Odessa subarea is now ongoing. Richard had a big role in that. I believe that Richard Lemargie will rightfully be remembered as one of the giants among Columbia Basin Project leaders.

Dick Erickson

Secretary-Manager, Easy Columbia Basin Irrigation District (July 1983–April 2007)