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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.

 

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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.