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Alpine Lakes Wilderness Comment Deadline: May 11

colchuck-lake (USDA-FS)

Colchuck Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness (USDA)

After spending more than three years and a million taxpayer bucks, Chelan County and the Washington Department of Ecology have finally put out an environmental scoping request for the Icicle Work Group’s “Icicle Strategy.”   This document identifies our government’s plan to further dam and drain several lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area for future consumption by Wenatchee Valley developers and irrigators.

Complete details about the impact of the project can be found in the Alpine Lakes Protection Society’s (ALPS) latest newsletter.

People who care about the Alpine Lakes Wilderness –  one of America’s most beautiful and popular wilderness areas – need to speak up.  Comments regarding the scope of the environmental impact statement must be received by May 11, 2016:

  • Mike Kaputa, Director, Chelan Co. Natural Resources Dep’t
  • Via e-mail:  mike.kaputa@co.chelan.wa.us
  • Via snail mail:  411 Washington St., Suite 201, Wenatchee, WA

The SEPA checklist and various descriptions of the Icicle Work Group’s proposal are posted on Chelan County’s website.  Here are a few observations that may guide comments.

The Icicle Work Group is a self-appointed conglomeration of government agencies (federal, state, local, tribal), water resource users (irrigators and municipal water suppliers), and a couple of environmental groups interested in getting contracts to do projects.   The IWG has no members who are advocating to protect the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.*

The IWG’s “guiding principles” establish that whatever comes out of the process must be a “quid pro quo” deal.   Thus, any benefit to the environment will be accomplished only if new water rights are created to fuel development and sprawl in and around the City of Leavenworth, Cashmere, Dryden, etc.   These water rights will extract water from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness: Eightmile, Colchuck, Klonaqua, Nada, Snow, and Square Lakes.  To obtain this water, the cities will have to build dams and other infrastructure, and will inundate Wilderness lands as well as draw down the Wilderness lakes.  You can read the details in the Alpine Lakes Optimization & Automation Study (Table 6, p. 62 provides a handy summary.)

The Icicle Work Group asserts that this plan is environmentally beneficial because it will improve instream flows in Icicle Creek.  This assertion is (largely) false.   There will be minor improvements to streamflow, but most of the water promised to Icicle Creek is interruptible – that is – in water-short years the cities and irrigators will be able to take their full allotments of water regardless of how little is flowing in the creek.  There will not be enough water to protect the endangered steelhead and bull trout that inhabit Icicle Creek.

More analysis of these problems may be found in prior Naiads posts, such as Icicle Instream Illusions, and New Dams and Diversions in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Here’s what the IWG needs to hear:

  • The EIS must consider a Wilderness Protection Alternative.  This alternative would promote wilderness values as set forth in the Wilderness Act of 1964, would not allow new water infrastructure or diversions inside the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and would require all new water supply to be obtained outside the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
  • The EIS must consider a Water Conservation Alternative.  This alternative would assess using aggressive water conservation measures by Wenatchee Valley cities, including restrictions on lawn watering (as the citizens of Seattle have learned to do).  This alternative should also assess transfer of water rights from irrigation districts to cities, where orchards have already been torn out and replaced with residential subdivisions.  This alternative should also assess agricultural irrigation efficiency, such as replacing open gravity canals with pipes and pumps and other 21st century concepts.  A proposed Conservation Alternative is linked here.
  • The EIS must consider an Irrigation District Water Right Change Alternative, which would fix Icicle Creek’s low flow problem.  This alternative would evaluate moving the Icicle-Peshastin Irrigation District’s water right diversion, which presently takes 100 cubic feet per second out of Icicle Creek, to the Wenatchee River downstream about 3 miles.  This measure, which would permanently fix Icicle Creek’s low flow problem, would convert the IPID diversion from gravity flow to pumping (requiring electrical power). The Icicle Work Group should therefore analyze renewable energy options to supply that power, including solar, wind and in-canal hydroelectric.
  • The EIS must consider a Water Right Relinquishment Alternative.  Removal of water from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is on the table only because IPID holds water rights that were grandfathered when the Wilderness was created.  And – as IPID will tell anyone who will listen – every year they use what they need.  When the dam at Eightmile Lake fell down decades ago they didn’t fix it because they did not need more water.  When a party doesn’t use their rights, they lose them.  “Use It Or Lose It” – the basic rule of western water law – is controlling.   The EIS needs to analyze this.

The IWG’s plan to exploit the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is a camel’s-nose-under-the-tent proposal.  As climate change alters the hydrology of the western U.S., we can expect to see many attempts to expand water projects that were grandfathered into wilderness areas. Wilderness advocates need to weigh in by May 11, for the sake of Alpine Lakes and for wilderness values in general.

__________________________

*The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Society (ALPS) was invited and declined to participate.  The Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) participated in IWG meetings for two-plus years and then resigned when the operating procedures were changed to gag CELP’s objection to wilderness water projects.

 

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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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Part 4: New Diversions & Dams in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness?

Part 4:  The Alpine Lakes Automation-Storage Project

Enchantment Zone Icicle ID Instream Flow Options Report (7-25-14)

Alpine Lakes Wilderness region where automation and new storage is proposed.

This is the fourth of a four-part series regarding proposals to re-build a dam and increase water diversions from as many as seven lakes in the Enchantment Lakes region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  Part 1 describes the genesis and functioning of the Icicle Work Group, the entity which is proposing the water projects. Part 2 examines the Eightmile Lake Restoration-storage project, and Part 3 examines the Upper Klonaqua Lake Pipeline proposal.

In a nutshell, the Department of Ecology’s Office of the Columbia River has funded Chelan County to investigate how to solve water problems in the Wenatchee River watershed.  The primary focus of the effort is to increase water storage and diversions from seven lakes in the Enchantment Lakes region of the Alpines Lakes Wilderness.

This article discusses the proposal to automate existing diversions from the Alpine Lakes to increase efficiency and potentially drain the lakes.

The IPID and Hatchery diversion methods are primitive:  drain holes and gates at the lakes are manually opened and closed at the beginning and end of the irrigation season by IPID and Hatchery staff who hike into the Wilderness.

Icicle Subbasin Vicinity Plan (Aspect Consulting Nov. 2012)

Icicle Creek Subbasin Vicinity Map (Aspect Consulting Nov. 2012). This map shows lakes proposed for storage and added diversions, and existing diversion points on Icicle Creek.

The Alpine Lakes Automation/Optimization Appraisal Study (A/O Study) evaluates the potential to install telemetry equipment at each of the seven lakes to allow IPID and the Hatchery to remotely control the water release structures from their offices.  Rather than uncontrolled drainage, automation would allow the water users to fine tune the quantities of water they remove from the lakes to meet both consumptive use and instream flow requirements.

The original concept for the study was to evaluate more efficient use of water and refill rates.

However, the scope of the A/O Study has expanded to include analysis of increasing storage at Snow and Eightmile Lakes.   The study evaluates increasing storage at Upper & Lower Snow Lakes by 5 feet and drawing down Lower Snow by an additional 3 feet.  The study also evaluates two options at Eightmile Lake.  The first involves rebuilding the dam to its original height (adding 4 feet to current pool); the second adds another 1 foot above that.  Both options also evaluate lowering the Eightmile Lake outlet by 19 to 22 feet below current drawdown levels.

The A/O Study then evaluates the water supply opportunities should six of the seven IPID/LNFH lakes be fully drained each year. (At present, IPID diverts from the four lakes to which it holds rights on a rotating basis.)

The proposals to install automation equipment, manipulate lake levels, and increase diversions from the lakes seem likely to require approvals from the U.S. Forest Service (which manages the Alpine Lakes Wilderness) and the Department of Ecology (which manages water rights).  To date neither agency has indicated their positions regarding these proposals, although as discussed in Part 1 of this series, Ecology’s Office of the Columbia River has provided substantial funding to study new dams and diversions from the Enchantment Lakes.

 


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Part 3: New Dams & Diversions in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness?

Part 3:  The Upper Klonaqua Lake Pipeline Proposal

Upper Klonaqua Lake (Aspect Nov. 2014)

Upper Klonaqua Lake (Aspect Consulting, Nov. 2014)

This is the third of a four-part series regarding proposals to re-build a dam and increase water diversions from as many as seven lakes in the Enchantment Lakes region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  Part 1 describes the genesis and functioning of the Icicle Work Group, the entity which is proposing the water projects. Part 2 examines the Eightmile Lake Restoration-Storage project, and Part 4 examines the Alpine Lakes Automation-Storage project.

In a nutshell, the Department of Ecology’s Office of the Columbia River has funded Chelan County to investigate how to solve water problems in the Wenatchee River watershed.  The primary focus of the effort is to increase water storage and diversions from seven lakes in the Enchantment Lakes region of the Alpines Lakes Wilderness.

This article discusses the preliminary proposal to divert water out of Upper Klonaqua Lake.  The only study for this project released to date is the draft Bathymetry and Topographic Survey of Upper Klonaqua Lake and Conceptual Release Options (Aspect Consulting, Nov. 2014).

Topo map of Klonaqua Lakes

As with all of the Alpine Lakes proposals, the search is on for new water to supply downstream uses in the Icicle Creek and Wenatchee Valley.

The Upper Klonaqua Lake concept involves installing a siphon or pump or blasting a tunnel  from Lower Klonaqua into Upper Klonaqua Lake, draining it into Lower Klonaqua Lake, and then allocating that water for uses further down in the watershed.

 Upper-Klonaqua-Lake-Conceptual-Review Graphics (Nov. 2014)

Upper Klonaqua Lake Bathymetry Synopsis (Aspect Consulting, Nov. 2014) Draft

In September 2014, Gravity Consulting LLC conducted a study of the depth and contours of Upper Klonaqua Lake.

As discussed in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, the Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation Districts (IPID) hold some form of water rights and easements for several Alpine Lakes, including the Upper and Lower Klonaqua Lakes.  IPID has never accessed water from Upper Klonaqua, and according to the report, has used only 1,600 acre-feet of its 1926 2500 acre-foot water right from Lower Klonaqua Lake.

Nonetheless, the Upper Klonaqua Study evaluates the natural storage capacity of Upper Klonaqua, including how much water could be obtained by drawing down the lake.

Issues with this proposal include that any new water project in a wilderness area would require approval of the U.S. Forest Service (and, according to the Wilderness Act of 1964,  possibly the U.S. President).

And, because this proposal  would involve diverting increased quantities of water from the Klonaqua Lakes, the Department of Ecology would have to evaluate relinquishment, and issue new water rights to accomplish the goal.

To date, neither the Forest Service nor the Department of Ecology have expressed opinions about the viability of these proposals.


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New Dams & Diversions in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness?

PART 1:  Genesis of the Icicle Work Group

Enchantment Zone Icicle ID Instream Flow Improvement Options Analysis (7-22-14)

Enchantment Lakes targeted for new dams and water diversions (Graphic from Icicle Irrigation District Instream Flow Improvement Project (Forsgren Assoc. & Trout Unlimited, 7-22-14)

The Department of Ecology’s Office of the Columbia River is funding and sponsoring proposals to increase water diversions from seven lakes in the Enchantment Lakes region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness that flow into Icicle Creek:  Colchuck, Eightmile, Upper and Lower Snow, Nada, Upper Klonaqua and Square Lakes.

This post is Part 1 of a 4-part Naiads series describing the Alpine Lakes proposed projects.  Part 2 discusses the Eightmile Lake Restoration-Storage project.  Part 3 discusses the Upper Klonaqua Lake pipeline proposal.  Part 4 discusses the Alpine Lakes Automation-Storage project.

In 2012, the Office of the Columbia River funded Chelan County to form a “collaborative work group” to address Icicle Creek water quantity issues.  Ostensibly the purpose of the Icicle Work Group (IWG) is to solve instream flow problems in Icicle Creek while obtaining more water from the system for out-of-stream uses.

The impetus for creating the work group comes from a lawsuit filed by the City of Leavenworth against the Department of Ecology regarding its quantification of the city’s water rights.  The Chelan County Court decision was issued in 2011.  The case is on hold in the Court of Appeals while Ecology uses the IWG process to attempt to find water for Leavenworth (see Settlement Position Paper, Initial Status Report, 2nd status report and 3rd status report).  If the effort fails and the lawsuit moves forward, a court decision could undermine Ecology’s authority to quantify water rights that pre-date the 1917 water code.  The statewide implications are substantial; presumably Ecology would prefer to settle and vacate the lower court orders.

Funding the IWG

To implement the Leavenworth settlement efforts, the Office of the Columbia River entered into a $700,000 contract with Chelan County Natural Resources Department to run the IWG and pursue water development projects.

Chelan County subcontracted with Aspect Consulting (Dan Haller, principal) for $506,000 of investigations and Dally Environmental Service (Lisa Dally Wilson, principal) for  $16,000 of meeting facilitation.   Also subcontracted is Cascadia Law Group (Jay Manning, principal) ($$ unknown) and the Icicle Peshastin Irrigation District ($25,000 per year for two years).

The Office of the Columbia River is now seeking another $3.5 million to continue the IWG work into the 2015-17 biennium.  (Gov. Inslee has proposed a smaller budget for the OCR, but details relating to the IWG are not available.)

Icicle Work Group Goals

In addition to finding water for Leavenworth, the IWG process has several goals embodied in its Operating Procedures.  These include improving instream flows in Icicle Creek, helping create a sustainable Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, protecting tribal rights to fish at the hatchery, improving water reliability for agriculture, and improving ecosystem health.

All this must occur while achieving compliance with state and federal laws, including the Wilderness Act  –  no small feat.

The IWG is a “quid pro quo” process.  This raises the question whether ecosystem benefits, including water quality improvements and restoration of instream flows for endangered species, may only be achieved if new water supply is provided for Leavenworth (along with other IWG goals).  This in turn raises questions about whether and to what extent state and federal laws (for example, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act permits) may be superceded by a stakeholder-based collaborative process.  What is the role of the Department of Ecology and NOAA Fisheries, agencies who are tasked with issuing permits for the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery, for example?

Overview of the Alpine Lakes Water Projects

According to IWG studies, the primary source of water supply for new municipal/domestic/agricultural uses will come from the seven lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Eightmile Lake forest at west end Sept 15 2013 by Karl Forsgaard

Forested west end of Eightmile Lake. Proposals for raising the lake pool have not studied the impacts on riparian and wilderness resources. (Photo: Karl Forsgaard)

At present, three proposals relate to the Alpine Lakes:  (1) the Eightmile Lake Restoration-Storage project; (2) the Upper Klonaqua Lake pipeline proposal; and (3) the Alpine Lakes Automation-Storage project.  These projects are discussed in Parts 2, 3, and 4 of this series.  The latest studies can also be found on the Chelan County NRD website.

The Icicle-Peshastin Irrigation District (IPID) holds grandfathered easements and water rights that allow it to store and divert water from the Alpine Lakes. Leavenworth Fish Hatchery (owned by US Bureau of Reclamation, operated by US Fish & Wildlife Service) also holds a water right for Snow & Nada Lakes.  The scope of these interests is a matter for evaluation as well.

The Alternative Conservation Proposal

Rather than divert additional water from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, water solutions for Icicle Creek could be found through more sustainable approaches.  Approximately 117 cfs of new instream flow could be added to a 6-mile length of Icicle Creek (downstream of Snow Creek) by moving the Icicle Peshastin Irrigation District’s take-out point downstream to the Wenatchee River.

Water conservation opportunities are substantial.  Rather than looking to the Alpine Lakes as the first option, the City of Leavenworth should adopt an aggressive water conservation plan, as should other users in the valley.  These actions, combined with promoting water markets that facilitate selling and trading water rights, could supply future water uses.  However, these approaches have received minimal consideration to date.

Public Outreach & Environmental Study Processes

Manipulating lake levels and allocating new water rights from the Alpine Lakes is likely to impact the public’s interest in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and could be controversial.  Although the IWG was asked to create a Wilderness Advisory Group to solicit immediate input on these proposals, that idea was eliminated without discussion at the Dec. 2014 IWG meeting.

Chelan County did hold a public meeting in Seattle in 2012, from which the perception arose that the environmental community is not concerned about the Alpine Lakes water storage and diversion proposals.  A similar meeting may be held in January 2015.  Meanwhile, scoping under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) will be scheduled for spring or summer 2015.  National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes are unknown at this time.

In addition to the Alpine Lakes storage and water right proposals, the Icicle Work Group is evaluating several other projects to improve instream flow and habitat in Icicle Creek.  There is also movement afoot by other water users in the Wenatchee Valley to capture Icicle Creek (including Alpine Lakes) water for downstream uses.

The ultimate “package” of projects will involve trade-offs that require public scrutiny and input.

For more information about the Icicle Work Group, see the Chelan County website, and read Parts 2, 3 and 4 of this series.