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Eightmile Lake nonfunctioning dam Sept 15 2013 by Karl Forsgaard


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Icicle Work Group: An Alternative View

This article was published in the January-February 2016 newsletter of the Washington Chapter of the American Water Resources Association.  This version contains additional graphics and links to websites and documents. 

Introduction

Washington AWRA members were introduced to the Icicle Creek work group process at the October 2015 dinner meeting and in a follow-up newsletter article. Chelan County Natural Resources Director Mike Kaputa presented on the costly (in both time and money) process that various government agencies, water users, tribes and environmental groups are undertaking with the ultimate goal of diverting more water out of the already over-appropriated Icicle Creek watershed. This article offers a different viewpoint of the Icicle Work Group’s process and goals.

The Icicle Work Group or IWG was established and funded by the Department of Ecology’s Office of the Columbia River (OCR) in December 2012 as a “collaborative process.” The IWG spent a year developing operating procedures based on consensus decision making, along with substantive goals that focused on environmental improvements and developing new water supply while adhering to state and federal laws.

Icicle Subbasin Vicinity Plan (Aspect Consulting Nov. 2012)

Figure 1. Icicle Creek Subbasin Vicinity Map (Aspect Consulting Nov. 2012)

The IWG process targets an already over-appropriated water system. Icicle Creek drains a portion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area and discharges into the Wenatchee River near downtown Leavenworth. See Fig. 1.  Four entities divert about 150 cfs from the Icicle upstream of the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery; two-thirds of that water is removed completely from the Icicle watershed to serve orchards in the Wenatchee Valley. Flows in some reaches of Icicle Creek are inadequate to support Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed bull trout and steelhead.

Before launching into particulars, a disclosure is appropriate.   On behalf of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, I was invited to serve on the IWG and did so (along with CELP colleagues) from the outset. At the first meeting of the IWG I voiced CELP’s objection to a central element of the IWG’s strategy:   artificially increased water storage in the Enchantment Lakes, in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.   In February 2015, concerned that the public was not being apprised of IWG proposals, I published articles about the Alpine Lakes project at www.naiads.wordpress.com (“New Dams & Diversions in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness?”). In June, the IWG proposed to alter its decision process from consensus to majority vote, and adopt a rule that members must screen their opinions with the IWG before publicly airing them. CELP resigned from the IWG when these amended procedures were adopted in July 2015.

Background Conflicts

As with many water resource problems, there is a long back story to water management in Icicle Creek. Four different conflicts inform the work of the Icicle Work Group.

This first conflict begins with the building of Grand Coulee dam without fish passage, an egregious injustice to tribes and the public that has yet to be rectified. To partially mitigate, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1938 built the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery. The Bureau still owns and funds the Hatchery, which is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce chinook and coho salmon to meet federal trust obligations to the Confederated Colville Tribes and Yakama Nation. The Leavenworth Hatchery is a dilapidated facility suffering from decades of deferred maintenance, including relating to its water supply system. The Hatchery also blocks passage of ESA-listed steelhead and bull trout to the upper area of Icicle Creek – no small irony given that the USFWS is one of two federal agencies in charge of recovering endangered species.

In addition to its physical infrastructure problems, the Hatchery operates without proper permits and conditions. Wild Fish Conservancy and CELP have brought a number of lawsuits against the Hatchery, including three ongoing cases relating to Endangered Species Act, state 401 Certification, and federal Clean Water Act violations.

A second background issue involves a lawsuit between the City of Leavenworth and the Department of Ecology.   In sum, in processing a water right change application in 1995, Ecology assigned an annual quantity to one of Leavenworth’s older water rights. Leavenworth did not appeal that quantification at the time, but recently sued Ecology to increase the annual quantity. A Chelan County judge ruled that Ecology’s 1995 quantification was a “tentative determination” that can be re-visited by the courts. The case is on hold in the Court of Appeals, a stay being obtained in 2013 based on Ecology’s promise to establish the Icicle Work Group and find more water for the City. The conflict boils down to 800 acre-feet annually, and Ecology is looking to provide that water via new appropriations out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area.

IPID-LNFH Water Rights Chart (Chelan Co. Grant App) (2)

Figure 2. IPID Water Rights (Chelan County)

This relates to the third background issue – the water rights of Icicle Peshastin Irrigation District (IPID) (technically these are two districts that share a manager). IPID holds rights to store and take water from several of the Enchantment Lakes – these rights were grandfathered when the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area was established in 1976. See Fig. 2.  IPID has installed various structures that control water flow from these lakes (“control” meaning that someone hikes up into the Wilderness in July to turn on the water, and then hikes back up in October to turn it off).

 

Eightmile Lake nonfunctioning dam Sept 15 2013 by Karl Forsgaard

Figure 3. Because of the collapsed dam, Eightmile Lake has long been incapable of storing 2500 acre-feet of water. (Photo courtesy Karl Forsgaard)

When Ecology decided it would rather settle than fight the City’s lawsuit, it began to look at IPID’s wilderness water system as a source for the elusive 800 acre-feet.   One of IPID’s rights is to store water at Eightmile Lake, where the dam structure collapsed so long ago no one remembers when it happened.   See Fig. 3.  If IPID could re-build the dam, and increase the water level of the lake, and if that extra water could be re-allocated to the City – well then, case dismissed and the Chelan County “tentative determination” order vacated.

A final issue involves the Wenatchee River instream flow rule, first adopted in 1983. In 2005, Ecology amended the rule to update instream flows and add reserves to support new water rights in the Wenatchee Valley. These reserves would impair the instream flow established by rule, and are based on “overriding considerations of the public interest” or OCPI, set forth in RCW 90.54.020(3)(a). Alert readers will recall that OCPI reserves are no longer valid following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Swinomish Indian Tribal Community v. Department of Ecology. This effectively squelched the County’s efforts to obtain issuance of new water rights, and has led to (thus far unsuccessful) attempts in the Legislature to revive the Wenatchee reserves.

Wenatchee Peshastin Gage Low Flow Graph

Figure 4. Actual streamflow in the Wenatchee River falls below the rule-based instream flow targets for most of the summer each year. The now invalid reserves would further deplete the Wenatchee River. (Graphic adapted from USGS data)

As an aside, the Wenatchee River and Icicle Creek routinely do not meet the Wenatchee rule’s instream flow targets during summer months.  See Figure 4.  This fact nicely illustrates the Supreme Court’s concerns about reserves impinging on the statutory mandate to preserve flows that support fish, wildlife, recreation and other instream values.

The Icicle Work Group Goals & Projects

With all this in mind, the Icicle Work Group was founded in 2012 as a consensus decision work group. The IWG adopted eight goals that seek both environmental improvements and new out-of-stream water allocations. In 2013, the OCR granted $885,000 to Chelan County to staff IWG with consultants and Ecology, WDFW and Chelan County employees. The IWG also pays $25,000 per year to IPID to fund its manager’s participation. Substantial legislative appropriations were made to support the IWG in the 2015-2017 biennium.

Flow-WUA Chart - IWG IF Comm Presentation 7-20-14

Figure 5. Icicle Work Group Instream Flow Technical Subcommittee recommendations for instream flow in Icicle Creek Reach 4 (adjacent to Leavenworth Fish Hatchery) (2014).

In 2014, the Work Group began to develop “metrics” to meet its goals. Identifying instream flow quantities necessary to meet fisheries needs in Icicle Creek, especially the de-watered reach adjacent to the Leavenworth Hatchery, was one consideration. IWG appointed a technical subcommittee of biologists, which recommended that 250 cfs was needed in order to maintain 100% of habitat for steelhead and bull trout life stages. See Figure 5.

Certain Work Group members however, found these quantities unacceptable. The 250 cfs number was “negotiated” down to 100 cfs in good years, and 60 cfs in drought years.   This would make 80% or less of potential habitat available for ESA-listed fish, a problematic goal by state and federal standards. See “metrics” and Fig. 5.  Some biologists have expressed doubt about the scientific foundations of this compromise, but when questions were raised, the IWG was informed that the decision could not be re-visited.

This process raises fundamental questions about the propriety of agency participation in “collaborative” groups. With consensus, all parties have veto. But IWG rules now require participants to support the metrics and project list. Agency commitment to outcomes in advance of public and environmental review is troubling, especially for regulatory agencies such as Ecology, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, and NOAA.

Also problematic is the approach to meeting these compromise flows. The current project list identifies only 22 cfs of “guaranteed” instream flow water – the rest would be interruptible. In a bad year, like the summer of 2015, Icicle Creek flows would plummet and temperatures skyrocket, while human users get the water they need.

Proposals to manipulate storage at Eightmile and other Enchantment Lakes, where IPID insists it has the “right” to expand its wilderness water system, are of great concern to the environmental community. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is a crown jewel of the federal wilderness system and Eightmile Lake is one of its most popular trails. While the IWG has done some outreach, conservation community responses have had zero impact on development of the project list.

Eightmile Lake Easements (Aspect Nov. 2014)

Figure 6. Eightmile Lake Easements do not cover the entirety of the lake. (Aspect Nov. 2014)

Beyond the failure to address public concerns, neither Ecology nor IPID has easements to flood wilderness surrounding the lakes, nor can the U.S. Forest Service give away public lands. See Fig. 6.  Yet expanded storage in the Alpine Lakes is the IWG’s linchpin project – so important that it changed its rules in order to outvote CELP’s viewpoint. Indeed, CELP was directed to stop asking questions about these issues at IWG meetings.

The most expedient way to put 100 cfs into Icicle Creek is to move IPID’s diversion five miles downstream, from the Icicle-Snow Creek confluence to the Wenatchee River. However, IPID’s board voted to prohibit the IWG from considering this option. These actions raise interesting questions about the scope of water entitlements. Is a water user guaranteed their means of diversion, in this case miles of gravity-powered conveyance, that cause substantial environmental impacts?

Ski Hill Lawn 1

Figure 7. No pear trees here. Former orchard lands in the Ski Hill area of Leavenworth have converted to residential, but are still afforded irrigation water duties for their lawns.  (Photo: Naiads, June 2015)

Prior to resigning, CELP proposed that the project list should focus on rigorous conservation rather than new storage. An informal tour of the Leavenworth area in June 2015 produced a photo album of conservation opportunities, including IPID canal-side phreatophytes, orchard over-irrigation, and excessive residential lawn watering.  See Fig. 7.  Municipal demand has declined, and the City does not project significant need for future customers. Indeed, the City recently approved selling water to the Leavenworth Ski Hill for snowmaking in 2016. While the current IWG project list includes some conservation, IWG water users resist meaningful measures.

Upcoming IWG Process

Chelan County’s IWG website does not reveal when or how the IWG plans to move forward. The IWG was on track to begin SEPA scoping in autumn 2015, but when the legislature allocated IWG another $1-2 million for the 2015-2017 biennium, the process slowed. These funds will easily support the IWG battalion of consultants and agency staff for at least two more years.

State and federal coordination over environmental review (SEPA and NEPA) has also been difficult.   One of the consequences of “integrated planning,” i.e., the lumping together of varied projects, is that affected agencies spend large amounts of publicly funded time to iron out procedures, turf conflicts, and other issues.

A few concluding observations.

First, as a matter of law and of biology, instream flows in Icicle Creek must be returned to more normative, historic levels. It is wrong to use legally required flows as a trading chit to obtain new out-of-stream water rights. This is particularly so given that the target sources are the Enchantment Lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Second, the IWG is not a collaborative process. The inability of the Work Group to contend with dissent – and its change in operating procedures to silence particular viewpoints – seriously undermines its legitimacy. Skepticism should be the response when the IWG extols the virtuosity of its group-think process.

Finally, public expenditures for the IWG and its projects should be re-evaluated. Ecology could purchase or condemn 800 acre feet of water for far less than the $64 million dollar tab that the IWG is about to drop on the public.

It is the responsibility of the Bureau of Reclamation and USFWS to bring Leavenworth Hatchery into compliance with state and federal laws. It is the duty of the four Icicle Creek water right holders to ensure they do not harm endangered salmonids, and to employ 21st century water efficiency practices. It is the mandate of the regulatory agencies to secure this compliance, not negotiate it away.

Ultimately, if an accurate picture is presented, the public will not pay for the sins and omissions of Icicle Creek diverters. Why are we spending millions to get that picture?

 

 


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Dismantling the Enchantment Lakes by Pick and Shovel

Ski Hill Lawn 1

Ski Hill residences in Leavenworth are served water by Icicle Irrigation District. Inside Leavenworth, the District’s water is growing large and lush lawns, pears not so much.

‘”We have helicopters scheduled to go up to Eight Mile,” [IPID manager Tony] Jantzer said, “We’ll start on Eight Mile, digging that out. We’ll move to Colchuck on Wednesday. I hope to get more water out of those lakes . . .”

All the work will be done the old-fashioned way with picks and shovels.  At Eight Mile Lake Jantzer said they should be able to clear out four or five feet, which should produce another 160 acre feet of water.

The outlet at Colchuck Lake is down three feet.  Once that is dug out, it should produce another 100 acre feet of water . . .’

Ian Dunn, Leavenworth Echo, “Icicle/Peshastin Irrigation Districts struggling to provide enough water” (Sept. 2, 2015).

When the Alpine Lakes Wilderness was designated in 1976, the Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation Districts (IPID) held pre-existing rights to divert water from several of the Enchantment Lakes – and those water rights were grandfathered in.  This month, however, the Irrigation Districts are taking the unprecedented step of helicoptering into the Wilderness to lower the outlets to at least two of the lakes – Eightmile and Colchuck — and take more water.

Ski Hill Lawn 2 (6-18-15)

More Leavenworth lawn irrigated compliments of the Icicle Irrigation District diversions from the Enchantment Lakes. A remnant pear orchard appears in the background.

This project offers multiple ironies.  The largest irony is that, although the Districts do serve water to Wenatchee Valley pear growers, many orchards have been converted into residential neighborhoods as the Cities of Leavenworth and Cashmere have expanded their urban boundaries.  IPID is diverting water out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to irrigate not just pears, but also very large expanses of lawn.

The IPID manager acknowledged this in a Sept. 2, 2015 interview with the Leavenworth Echo, where he lamented the difficulty of getting district customers to conserve water.  According to the article, there are:

“1,143 users in the Icicle Irrigation District, the bulk of which is residential.  Over the course of the long, hot summer Jantzer said the Icicle users have been using record[] amounts of water.”

Adding to the incongruities, IPID’s dismantling and de-watering of the Enchantment Lakes is up for funding by the Washington Department of Ecology’s drought-relief funding program.   Ecology originally granted IPID $41,000 to install pumps into Eightmile Lake, but according to a Sept. 3 Capital Press article, the District was unable to rent helicopters of the size needed to implement that project.   Ecology’s website now indicates it is considering granting $12,500 to IPID for the “pick and shovel” alternative.  Thus, the public will likely be paying IPID to inflict its destruction on the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Normally an application to take more water out of a lake would require public comment and review, and strict statutory standards to prevent harm to the environment and other water users.  But Ecology’s drought relief funding rule exempts applications from public review and requires expedited decisions – within 15 days.  Questions regarding IPID’s relinquishment of water rights that it has not used for “80 to 100 years” remain unanswered.

Also missing in action is the U.S. Forest Service, which is tasked with managing and protecting the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  Do IPID’s easements and special use permits really allow it to tamper with these lakes?

There’s a back story too.  Icicle-Peshastin Irrigation District has been eyeing methods for increased access to Alpine Lakes water for some time.  As described in Naiads’ February 2015 four-part series, “New Dams and Diversions for the Alpine Lakes,” IPID, Ecology, and several other public agencies formed the Icicle Work Group in order to “bargain” for more water out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

IPID Ditch 4 (6-18-15)

IPID’s canal transports water from Icicle Creek to its customers. Several miles of the canal are only partially lined, and leak enough water to support a robust but artificial riparian zone.

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy resigned from the Icicle Work Group in July 2015 because of onerous new rules converting the IWG from consensus to majority rule.  The new rules require IWG members to support the decisions of the majority and prohibit public dissent.  (Full disclosure:  CELP was represented by the author of this post.)

Before resigning, CELP circulated a Water Conservation Potential Report, describing IPID’s inefficient operations and proposing alternative methods to “solve” upper Wenatchee Valley water supply problems.  Chief among these is reduction of lawn irrigation in the Ski Hill residential zone.  Another solution is to line IPID’s leaky canal, which as shown in the photo at right, is supporting a substantial amount of phreatophyte vegetation.

Rather than take the “soft path” of water conservation, however, IPID has chosen the hard path of pick-axe and shovel.   Apparently, during drought, no water resource is safe – even waters in federally protected wilderness.

 

Spokane River - Sandifur Bridge - 630 cfs - 8-8-15


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How the City of Spokane is Letting Its River Down

2011 Water Billboard

Mayoral water war on display. (Photo: Spokesman Review) Check out www.H2KNOW.info for a different kind of message regarding Spokane’s water.

It’s hard to forget the water wars of 2011 – the mayoral water wars that is.  Anonymous billboards went up around town questioning why – with 10 trillion gallons of water in the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer – the City of Spokane would raise water rates to induce conservation.  A mayor and a city council member lost their seats, due in part to this highly misleading message.

Abundant groundwater notwithstanding, Mother Nature, combined with a City revenue structure that incentivizes water sales, have created a one-two punch for Spokane’s “most precious resource.”   The Spokane River is flowing at near-record lows.  It doesn’t have to be this way . . . but somebody in the City of Spokane needs to speak up.

Spokane River - Sandifur Bridge - 630 cfs - 8-8-15

Spokane River flowing at 630 cfs at the Westlink Pedestrian Bridge on August 8, 2015.

The Spokane River is directly fed by the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer, so groundwater pumping by all of the municipalities in this region is causing extreme low flows.  For the last few days, the River has been dropping into the 550 cfs range.  That’s 300 cfs below the minimum flow that the Department of Ecology adopted last February, and less than half of what the flow has been this time of year for the last few years (and a third of what it was historically).  The lowest flow on record is around 450 cfs, and it seems possible that a new record may be in the offing if people don’t put the brakes on their water usage.

As the City’s Water System Plan states (and common sense tells us), summer is the season of high water use.  From October to April, monthly water demand averages 31 to 44 million gallons per day (mgd).  May through September, the average jumps to between 64 and 114 mgd.  But this year, 2015, July usage was a whopping 123 mgd.   No wonder the Spokane River is suffering.

The City of Spokane has failed the Spokane River by stepping back from reasonable water conservation planning and implementation.

  • Arizona Block Rate Chart

    Examples of inclining block rate structures in Arizona. When a higher tier kicks in sooner and goes higher, people begin to conserve. Spokane’s rate structure would fall near the bottom of this graph.

    Water rates.   A “conservation rate structure” is the most effective way to get water customers to pay attention to and cut back on their water use.  The pocket book speaks.  The basic idea – the more you use the higher your rate – creates an incentive to drop your water usage into a lower/cheaper tier.  But Spokane’s rates make very minor distinctions for higher usage – and are ineffective in encouraging Spokane citizens to turn the outdoor spigot and sprinklers down (or off).

    For example, Spokane residential customers can use “6 units” of water (about 4,500 gallons) for 28 cents/unit or $1.71.  The next “4 units” (about 3,000) gallons costs 60 cents/unit or a total of $2.41.  The next jump is to 81 cents per unit.  A household can use 15,000 gallons per month (500 gallons per day) – a large amount – for just $12 per month.  These are not conservation-inducing water rates.

  • Conservation Goals.  Washington law requires water purveyors to adopt water conservation goals.  The City’s goal is to reduce water usage by 2% each year.  It is a modest goal, but the City can’t seem to meet it (in part because the City’s water rates are so low).  In 2014, the City’s summer season water usage actually exceeded the conservation goal by 13% (goal was 8.5 billion gallons, actual use was 9.6 billion gallons).  According to the City’s 2014 Drinking Water Report, the reason the City did not meet its goals was usage by commercial/industrial users.   Clearly, this is an area where higher water rates could have a meaningful impact.
  • Water Leakage.   The City is losing a lot of water out of its “World Water II era” water mains.  The Drinking Water Report cites 17.8% leakage in 2014.   The state’s water efficiency law, adopted in 2003, requires a cities to control water leakage to a rate of 10% or less.  Twelve years and counting, many wonder when Spokane will get around to compliance.
  • Water Billing Practices.   If you are a Spokane utility customer you get a bill every month.  And it tells you how much water you’ve used.  But the City only checks your meter every 60 days or so.  So, by the time you get a bill  with actual data, it is really too late to save much water.   (Hint:  read your own meter to monitor your usage and set personal conservation goals.)
  • Water Conservation Table - Spokane WSP (draft Dec. 2014) (2)

    Spokane Water Conservation Measures (City Water System Plan, draft Dec. 2014)

    City Conservation Plan.   The City, by law, must adopt a water conservation plan every six years.   The latest plan, a December 2014 draft, identifies 19 measures (table at right).  These include water audits, low flow appliance rebates, education, and etc.  Some measures are not being implemented and some don’t even make sense.

Clearly, with record usage this year, these measures are not working, and  as mentioned, the City’s water rate system is not effective.  The City’s “Slow the Flow” campaign is virtually invisible. (And really, does anyone change their water habits based on a 3×8 inch insert in their utility bill?)

Non-profit groups Sierra Club Upper Columbia River Group and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy have taken leadership to encourage residents of Spokane to cut their water usage.   The H2KNOW campaign has billboards up and is getting media coverage.   Visit the H2KNOW.info website and Facebook page and see if you can translate a few tips on water reduction into your daily life.

Caution Label PCBs


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Citizen Action Motivates Spokane PCB Suit Against Monsanto

Caution Label PCBsOn July 31, 2015 the City of Spokane filed a legal complaint against mega-chemical manufacturer Monsanto and associated corporations, claiming the chemical manufacturing giant has engaged in nuisance, negligence, and product liability.  The complaint describes the destructive nature of PCB pollution, and alleges Monsanto knew decades ago that it was manufacturing and distributing a chemical that was not fit for use, the dangers of which it failed to provide notice to its customers.

The complaint, along with a press release circulated by the City’s Dallas, TX attorneys, explains why the City felt the need to file this lawsuit:   “According to a recent federal case, Spokane will become subject to a PCB TMDL, or Total Maximum Daily Load, which is a maximum amount of pollutant that a body of water such as the Spokane River can receive while still meeting water quality standards.”

That federal case is Sierra Club & CELP v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  On March 16, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled that EPA had abused its discretion in failing to require a PCB clean-up plan for the Spokane River, and ordered EPA to file with the court by July 14 a schedule for adopting that plan.  For more info, see our previous post:  Federal Court Rules: Evict Fox from Chicken Coop.

The City is correct.  The court-mandated PCB TMDL will establish waste load allocations that will be translated into limits on the amount of PCBs the City can discharge into the Spokane River via its treatment plant, stormwater system, and Combined-Sewer Overflow (CSO) system.

Spokane is one among several polluters who will be required to substantially upgrade treatment facilities to remove PCBs from effluent before it is discharged to the Spokane River, thanks to the Sierra Club/CELP legal action.  Other affected polluters include the new Spokane County treatment plant, Liberty Lake Water & Sewer,  Kaiser Aluminum, and Inland Empire Paper.

The City’s lawsuit is one of four such suits to be filed against Monsanto in the last few months.  Other municipal plaintiffs seeking damages for harm to the environment include San Jose, CA, San Diego, CA, and the Port of San Diego.

There have been winners and losers so far in the Monsanto PCB liability lottery, including reported settlements for PCB dumping in South Wales, England, and for personal injuries to former employees and others harmed by Monsanto’s Anniston, Alabama manufacturing facility.  However, last month a jury returned a verdict in Monsanto’s favor in a St. Louis, Missouri lawsuit brought by individual’s claiming harm from PCB exposure.

In March 2015, the newsblog ThinkProgress, reporting on San Diego’s lawsuit, described the difficulties of suing companies for historic pollution practices.   Sadly, it’s much harder to prove liability when the “scene of the crime” is a public resource like a river or a bay.

Suing over historic pollution is not a new concept for the Spokane watershed, however, given our history with massive silver and lead mining pollution in the Coeur d’Alene Basin, and the Midnite Mine uranium Superfund site on the Spokane Indian Reservation, not to mention Teck Cominco’s discharge of 9 million tons of toxic slag into the Lake Roosevelt.

Usually it is Native American Tribes and conservation groups engaged in the battles to clean up public resources like the Spokane River.   Welcome to the club, City of Spokane.


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Nooksack Water Thievery Redux

Sherman Polinder graphics 20150625-09_signed

The aerial map at top shows the location of a Nooksack Nine diverter (red dot). The photo shows the diversion device.  A comparison of GPS coordinates reveals that, on June 24, 2015,  Ecology issued Water Right No. S1-28777 for this diversion location to Sherman Polinder.  Under the terms of the permit, Polinder is prohibited from diverting when Nooksack River flows are below their minimums, as was the case when the photo was taken.

As reported in our recent post, “The Tale of the Nooksack Nine,” the Department of Ecology went above and beyond its usual water mismanagement when — faced with clear evidence of illegal water diversions from the Nooksack River – the agency decided to issue permits, rather than penalty orders, to the culprits.

More recently, it has been revealed that the Nooksack Nine — who now possess water rights — continue to divert in violation of the requirements of their newly issued rights.  When does it stop? 

On June 24 and 26 Ecology made good on a bad idea and issued water rights allowing the Nooksack Nine to divert water.  These rights are, of course, interruptible.  The permittees may use water only when the Nooksack River is meeting its regulatory instream flows.  And because the Nooksack doesn’t meet those flows 50-80% of the time during summer months, these new water rights don’t provide much water.

(As noted in the previous post, these rule-based instream flows are inadequate to support salmon life cycles, and need to be updated to protect higher flows.)

Nooksack Hydrograph for June 15, 2015

June 2015 flows in the Nooksack River (blue line) are well below the instream flow rule – which requires post-1976 water users to curtail their use.

The Nooksack River – like virtually every other river in Washington this year – is way, way below it’s normal flows.   The graph at right indicates the Nooksack is at the lowest levels ever recorded for this time of year.  So anyone with a water right issued after 1985 should not be diverting at all.

On June 25 and 30, 2015, Lummi Nation staff again floated the Nooksack River and identified 39 potential illegal diversions.

And guess who was diverting?  That’s right – seven of the Nooksack Nine diverters were taking water out of the river – in violation of their brand-new rights.

Never mind that Ecology promised that enforcing these new permits would be their “number one priority.”  Never mind that Lummi Nation and CELP asked Ecology to not issue the permits in the first place. Never mind that this sets a terrible precedent for hundreds of other illegal water users in the Nooksack basin.

Ed & Dale Blok Graphics (6-30-15)

The aerial map at top shows the location of a Nooksack Nine diverter (red dot). The photo shows the diversion device. A comparison of GPS coordinates reveals that, on June 24, 2015, Ecology issued Water Right No. S1-28775 for this diversion location to Ed & Dale Blok. Under the terms of the permit, the Bloks are prohibited from diverting when Nooksack River flows are below their minimums, as was the case when the photo was taken.

On July 14, 2014, Lummi Nation sent letters to Maia Bellon, Director of the Department of Ecology, documenting the 39 potential illegal diversions and requesting enforcement action.  Here’s how Merle Jefferson, Director of the Lummi Natural Resources Department summed it up:

Illegal water diversions from the Nooksack River and its tributaries have been occurring far too long, to the detriment of salmon and the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights to harvest.  We expect that Ecology will enforce existing state laws and issue both cease and desist orders and appropriate monetary penalties when it is determined that individuals are diverting water without a legal right to do so.  Ecology should not allow individuals and business to illegally divert a public resource for profit at the expense of others and the natural environment that depend on the same resource.

Well said.

And we would add – Ecology claims that its enforcement authority is limited to a “step-wise compliance process” and that it cannot issue enforcement orders and penalties without first “working with” the violator.  This is wrong.  The law is clear.  No one has a right to take public waters without a permit, or without being in compliance with their permit.   Ecology’s handholding with unauthorized water users is incorrect as a matter of law and unsound as a matter of public policy.

In point of fact, Ecology should shut down the diverters and fine them $5,000 per day for each day of illegal water diversion.   Indeed, the unauthorized use of water is a criminal misdemeanor, the local water master has the power to arrest water code violaters, and the local prosecuting attorney has the duty to assist.

Nooksack River water thievery is illuminating the Department of Ecology’s inability and unwillingness to uphold the law and to protect water resources that the state holds in public trust for the common good.

In a year of drought, this really matters.  Is any elected, appointed or employed official with the State of Washington listening?

___________

This is the third in a series of articles on Whatcom Water Insanity. Part 1 examines water stealing by the City of Lynden.  Part 2 tells “The Tale of the Nooksack Nine.”  Jean Melious’ blog, Get Whatcom Planning, also provides great info about Whatcom County water woes.   Photos and graphics above are courtesy of the Lummi Nation.

 

 

70_Percent of your water use


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Drought Conundrums

Westlink Bridge at 1500 cfs (6-9-15)

Rocks are emerging out of the Spokane River as flows dropped from 4,000 cfs over the weekend to the 1,500 cfs shown here. (6-9-15)

You’d have to be a hermit to be unaware that Washington state is having a bad water year.    The winter of 2014-15 was very warm — 5 degrees F warmer than average.  It rained plenty, but snowed little.  And what snow there was is now mostly gone.

Spring runoff for most rivers came weeks if not months early, and rivers are now flowing at levels we’d expect to see in mid-summer.  Rivers need snowmelt to sustain flows throughout the summer.   Unless it rains, hot weather will cause an increase in water temperatures in streams and rivers.  Combined with low flows, river conditions will be hostile to salmon and trout species that need cold, abundant water to migrate and complete their life cycles.

Pacific Ocean Sea Surface Temp Anomalies (NOAA 6_8_2015)

The 2015 El Nino – Pacific Ocean Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies as of June 8, 2015 (Graphic: NOAA)

And, it probably won’t rain.  El Niño, the ocean-warming phenomenon that drives weather patterns, is present in the North Pacific.  NOAA scientists are observing high sea surface temperatures – unusual for this time of year – and predicting an 80% chance that El Nino will last through the end of the year.

Washington State University’s Agriculture Weather Network translates the El Nino phenomenon into a prediction for Washington’s summer weather:    El Nino typically “leads to warmer weather and less precipitation across much of the Pacific Northwest.”

The bottom line:  Washington state is in the midst of a very serious drought.   And, there’s potential it will become a multi-year drought — similar to California.

Given all this, questions come to mind about water management in Washington state.  In some communities, it appears we neither recognize the dangers nor are responding in a logical fashion to the risks at hand.   One way or another, money appears to be a predominant factor in drought response.

70_Percent of your water use

No comment. (Graphic: waterwiseirrigation.com)

Question:  Why is it there is a major focus on getting emergency water supplies to farmers (especially in the Yakima River basin), but municipalities such as Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane are either messaging “everything’s okay” or just not saying anything at all?  

Short Answer:  Summer is the big revenue season for municipal water suppliers (primarily because of residential outdoor irrigation).  Water purveyors do not want to signal that their customers should conserve because it will result in reduced revenue and hurt their bottom line.  Regrettably, rivers will be seriously harmed because of this ‘no-conserve’ message, which is being disseminated not just by the purveyors but also by the Dept of Ecology and the Governor’s office.

Question: Why did “junior” water users in the Yakima basin plant cherry and apple orchards and other perennial crops, even though they were fully aware they would have limited access to water during a drought?  

Short Answer:  Water users who hold “junior” or “interruptible” water rights are on notice that in a water-short year, their water supply will be cut.   When farmers with junior rights plant crops that cannot survive without regular irrigation, they are making an investment decision that involves substantial economic risk.   In reality, junior water right holders have been betting on a bail-out.  Per next item, they appear to be getting one.

ECY Drought Response Budget (ECY Website 6-9-15)

The Department of Ecology will spend millions of dollars to subsidize farmers who made bad choices about crop plantings, but only $25,000 on “conservation education. From Dept. of Ecology 2015 Drought website.

Question:  Why is the state spending millions of dollars in public subsidies for water mitigation for orchardists who are now destroying last year’s apple crops?

Short Answer:  Washington farmers are destroying large amounts of last year’s apple crop that they were unable to sell.  They blame the inability to ship to international destinations due to port slowdowns, but last year saw record apple over-production.   What are the chances that Washington state will subsidize apple crops this year that will be destroyed next year?  Indeed, the Department of Ecology is spending millions of dollars to underwrite drought leasing programs and emergency well use in the Walla Walla and Yakima River basins for agricultural users who hold junior water rights.

Washington’s Office of the Columbia River has spent nearly $200 million on water supply projects over the past 8 years, but very little of it has been directed toward water scarcity and drought response.  Instead, OCR has function more like the Office of Cadillac Desert, studying dams and other irrigation projects that, if built, will ultimately cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Question: Given drought conditions, why is the Department of Ecology issuing new water rights in areas where water supply is likely to be deficient?

Short Answer:  For the last 3 years, the state legislature has included a budget proviso requiring Ecology to issue at least 500 water right decisions each year or lose a half million dollars in budget.  This has converted the Water Resources Program into a permit factory.

One example of the ensuing folly is the proposal to issue water permits to illegal water users in the Nooksack River basin.  Agency resources for the type of water management activities critical for managing for drought have dwindled to negligible levels (e.g., metering water use, promoting water conservation, measuring available surface and ground water supplies, enforcing against illegal use).

Meanwhile, of the state’s nearly $10 million drought budget, only $25,000 is dedicated to “conservation education.”

As rivers recede, the 2015 drought promises to reveal many mysteries and closeted skeletons.    Who is making money off of drought?   How low can our rivers go?  The salmon life cycle is 2-4 years – how will the 2015 drought affect salmon returns in 2017-19?  Will farms go out of business?  Will farmers make more risk averse cropping decisions in the future?  Inquiring minds, stay tuned.

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Spokane River flows drop nearly 2,000 cfs in a single day

The gates have closed at Post Falls dam to ensure that Lake Coeur d’Alene water levels are maintained for boaters.

Meanwhile, flows have dropped nearly 2,000 cfs in the last 24 hours for the Spokane River.   The theory is that redband trout fry have emerged from their redds, and so there is no impact on fish.   These flows are fully controlled by Avista.

Link here to watch Spokane River flows in real time, and pray for the river.

 

Graph of  Discharge, cubic feet per second

 

 

 

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