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Water: law/policy/politics/ethics/art/science


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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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Part 2: New Dams & Diversions in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness?

Part 2:  The Eightmile Lake Storage Proposal

This is the second 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 3 examines the Upper Klonaqua Lake Pipeline proposal, 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 proposal to rebuild a dam at Eightmile Lake and make more water available for the City of Leavenworth and other downstream uses.

Eightmile Lake nonfunctioning dam Sept 15 2013 by Karl Forsgaard

Nonfunctional dam at Eightmile Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (Photo: Karl Forsgaard)

The Eightmile Lake Restoration-Storage proposal evaluates the ability to increase water storage in Eightmile Lake by increasing the pool level and/or drawing the lake down further.

The original dam and control works for the lake have collapsed and current usable capacity is 1,375 acre-feet of water.

The Eightmile Lake Restoration Draft Appraisal Study (Nov. 2014) evaluates four options for increasing storage capacity: 2,000, 2,500 (2 options), and 3,500 acre-feet.  All four options include re-building the dam to its original height, or higher, as well as drawing down Eightmile Lake pool below its current, semi-natural outlet.  The Eightmile Lake proposal is based on assumptions about water rights and easements held by the Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation Districts (IPID), which actively manage four of the Alpine Lakes to serve water to about 7,000 acres of orchards and converted lands in the Wenatchee Valley.

IPID holds water rights dating from 1926 that allow the district to store water in and divert from the lakes.  The Eightmile Lake water right was adjudicated in 1929 at 2500 acre-feet annual volume, and 25 cfs rate of diversion.   However, the Eightmile dam collapsed at some point in the past and IPID has not used the full (artificial) storage capacity for many years.  There are questions about relinquishment of water rights over and above what IPID needs and has used in the past.  At a minimum, the Department of Ecology would have to issue water rights for new and increased uses.

Eightmile Lake Easements (Aspect Nov. 2014)

Eightmile Lake easements held by IPID are shown in blue (Aspect Consulting, Nov. 2014)

IPID holds easements that allow it to “store” water in several of the Alpine Lakes, although the scope of the easement for Eightmile Lake does not cover the entire lake.  As described in a Review of Eight Mile Lake Storage Authority (Aspect Consulting, 3-5-14), IPID’s easements cover only  a portion of the lake.

Any increase in storage capacity would require, at a minimum, U.S. Forest Service approvals.  Section 4(d)(4) of the Wilderness Act of 1964 requires Presidential approval to establish and maintain reservoirs within wilderness areas.

The appraisal study hypothesizes that the easement language will allow and perhaps even require the Forest Service to approve an expansion of the reservoir:  “In performing maintenance, repair, operation, modification, upgrading and replacement of [Eightmile Lake] facilities, [IPID] will not without prior written consent of the Forest Service, which consent shall not unreasonably be withheld, materially increase the size or scope of the facilities.”

Min & Max Inundation for Option 2 (Aspect Nov. 2014)-2

Minimum and Maximum Inundation Levels for Eightmile Lake Restoration, Option 2 (Aspect Consulting, Nov. 2014)

The Eightmile Lake proposal raises questions about the scope of impacts on riparian zones and wilderness surrounding the lake, including trails, campsites and other public amenities.

Trout Unlimited has published a study evaluating increase in storage at Eightmile Lake to provide water to improve instream flows in Icicle Creek.  That study includes a brief review of impacts to campsites and trails around the lake.

Eightmile Lake is one of the most popular trails and destinations in the Icicle Creek region of the Alpine Lake Wilderness, partly because of its easy accessibility.  To date, however, the U.S. Forest Service has not provided a public position regarding proposals to expand or draw down Eightmile Lake.

 


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New Eastern Washington Water Projects Simply Not Affordable

Aerial view of Grand Coulee Dam, Washington.  Columbia Basin Project, WA.

Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia Basin Project beyond (USBR)

The following guest editorial was printed in the Spokesman-Review on Sunday, January 4, 2015, discussing conclusions from two recent reports evaluating the economics of the Columbia Basin and Yakima irrigation projects.

The bottom line:  eastern Washington farmers have not repaid even 10% of the portion of these projects that are allocated to agriculture (notwithstanding huge public subsidies).  Future, concrete-intensive projects will fare no better.

For more information about the questionable economics of eastern Washington irrigation projects, visit the CELP website and Naiads.  And taxpayers, keep an eye  on your wallet.

January 4, 2015

Guest opinion: Public can’t afford to subsidize new water projects

John Osborn and Ken Hammond
Special to The Spokesman-Review
Water is political currency. Politicians hold hostage worthy public programs in exchange for public funding of money-losing water supply projects.  A case in point is the Central Arizona Project or CAP – the largest, most expensive aqueduct in the United States.

In the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson horse-traded approval of CAP in exchange for votes to enact civil rights legislation. While LBJ’s goals were worthy, it is a fact that taxpayers got stuck with most of the bill for CAP.

Similar subsidies apply to federal projects all over the West, including Eastern Washington.

To protect the public purse, objective economic analysis of water projects is a powerful tool. Two recent studies shine light on Eastern Washington’s two major federal irrigation projects: the Columbia Basin Project and the Yakima Project. Productive irrigated agriculture and local economies depend on these federal mega-projects. But the two projects have not paid for themselves – far from it. State and federal budget leaders should take heed.

A 2014 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“Availability of Information on Repayment of Water Project Costs Could Be Better Promoted”) evaluated irrigation district repayment for 130 federal water projects in the Western U.S.

At Grand Coulee Dam, the Columbia Basin Project pumps uphill 3.3 million acre-feet of river water for delivery to 670,000 acres across the Columbia Plateau.  This massive project cost $2.4 billion to construct. (In today’s dollars, the cost would be enormously higher.) Of that, $685 million was allocated to irrigated agriculture. But $495 million – nearly 75 percent – has been written off for payment by Bonneville Power Administration ratepayers, socializing the costs to millions of people paying their utility bills.

As reported by the GAO, of the $190 million left to be repaid by the irrigators, only $60 million has been paid, with payments stretched over 50 years at zero interest. On balance, irrigators have paid less than 5 percent of their share.

The Yakima Project stores and diverts 1.2 million acre-feet of water from five reservoirs in the Cascade Mountains, serving irrigation districts in Kittitas, Yakima and Benton counties. Here, construction costs total $286 million, with $149 million allocated to irrigators. The GAO reports slightly better repayment. Still, Yakima Valley irrigators have paid less than 10 percent of the total costs.

Crops grown in these federal projects don’t pay for the existing water supply infrastructure, loudly signaling that expanding these irrigation projects won’t cover costs either. Nonetheless, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has partnered with Washington’s Office of the Columbia River to pursue multibillion dollar expansions of both the Columbia Basin and Yakima projects.

Fortunately for taxpayers, federal guidelines now prohibit federal funding for water projects when costs exceed benefits. A recent economic study of expanding the Columbia Basin Project into the Odessa Subarea forced the bureau to decline funding that project.

Instead, the Office of the Columbia River has stepped into the gap to assess whether, and how much, Odessa Subarea farmers can pay to pump and deliver water to their farms. Depending on size, state subsidies of several hundred million or a few billion dollars would be needed to replace groundwater with river water for this small group of potato farmers.

The proposed Yakima water projects are similar. To expand in the Yakima, large state subsidies will be required to replace traditional federal subsidies to pay for the excess of costs over benefits.

In 2013, the cash-strapped Washington Legislature wisely tasked independent economists to study the latest Yakima Basin proposal.  In December, a team of Washington State Water Resource Center economists concluded that costs of water supply projects in the Yakima Basin – including new dams – outweigh benefits by 90 percent or more. In contrast, proposed fisheries enhancement projects of importance to tribes and the general public are cost effective. (Read: “Benefit-Cost Analysis of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan Projects.”)

Public subsidy for new irrigation projects needs to end. Dust Bowl-era justifications no longer apply to an increasingly corporate agricultural sector. Governments struggle to pay for public necessities such as education, health care and even maintenance backlogs for existing dams and water projects. New and expanded water projects are simply not affordable.

We are at the end of the water frontier. Water-project proponents in Washington, D.C., and Olympia must acknowledge that federal irrigation projects in Eastern Washington don’t pencil out. It is time to end wasteful feasibility studies, close the chapter and move on. There are more affordable means of sustaining profitable agriculture in Eastern Washington.

John Osborn is a Spokane physician and conservationist with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Sierra Club. See celp.org.  Ken Hammond is retired professor and chairman of the department of geography at Central Washington University and has been active for decades in water planning.


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Washington State Odessa Water Project Threatens Columbia River Treaty

Image

Grand Coulee dam and the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project, where Odessa diversions will take water from the river. Photo: National Park Service

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Spokane River Instream Flow Rule to be Launched

Spokane Low Flow (2010)

This graph shows the lowest flow of the year, every year between 1891 and 2010, as measured at the Spokane gage (just downstream of Monroe St. Bridge).

The Washington Department of Ecology announced today that it is launching an effort to protect instream flows in the Spokane River.   This is good news for river advocates, but must be taken with a dose of salt.

The Spokane River needs some help when it comes to instream flows, which have been steadily in decline for decades (see graph at right).   The problem is largely due to groundwater overpumping in both Washington and Idaho.  The Spokane Aquifer feeds the Spokane River, so pumping groundwater has a direct and negative impact on instream flows.

In Washington, river flows are protected by formal adoption of a rule that specifies how much water should be in the river during certain dates throughout the year (usually two week intervals).   These rule-based flows are basically a water right for the river.  Pre-existing water rights that were issued before adoption of the flow rule are not affected, and water rights issued after the flow rule are subject to curtailment when the flows are not met.   The system is not perfect, but it does provide a measure of protection against further degradation of rivers that lack sufficient water (such as the Spokane).

Ecology announced today that it will begin the formal rulemaking process, which should take about 18 months to complete, and will involve a fair amount of public process.

Spokane River 2003 low flows just above TJ Meenach Bridge

The purpose of instream flows is to protect public values in rivers.   For the Spokane, that means protecting water quality, fisheries, recreation, and scenic values.   An important question for Spokane River advocates to ask as this process unfolds:   Will the flows that Ecology proposes be sufficient to protect these values?

In a 2012 memo, and a 2013 presentation, Ecology stated that it intends to adopt a summertime flow of 850 cubic feet per second.  The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife provided technical analysis.  But nowhere in the studies is there discussion of adequate flows for recreation and scenic values.   Alternative views about the amount of water that the Spokane River needs and other issues, submitted by the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, are set forth here.  (The back story is that the City of Spokane has proposed flows as low as 460 cfs, and Ecology believes it can split the baby).

Washington’s instream flow program got a big boost last October, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the Skagit River instream flow rule is designed to protect the river, and cannot be subordinated to water for future development.  (See Naiads post Skagit River Wins Big in Court (10-3-13)).

Despite the Skagit court decision, Ecology continues to issue new water rights that impinge on instream flows.   Litigation challenging Ecology is underway involving the Nisqually and Deschutes Rivers (issuance of new water right to City of Yelm, near Olympia), the Similkameen River (issuance of new water right for Enloe Dam, near Oroville), and the Columbia River (issuance of new water right to Kennewick Hospital, see Naiads post Washington Rivers: For Sale).

As the Spokane flow rule develops, those who care should closely question how this “water right for the river” will truly protect the river.

  • Will the flow rule really protect Spokane River water quality, fisheries, recreation, and scenic values?
  • Will the flow rule protect higher flows that occur some years, and provide important diversity in habitat and river channel maintenance?
  • Will the flow rule prevent issuance of future water rights to the detriment of the river?   (Of particular concern is the Department of Ecology’s obsession with obtaining new water for Columbia basin irrigation – the Spokane River is a potential source).
  • How will the Spokane River instream flow rule connect with new pumping on the Rathdrum Prairie in Idaho?

The coming year will present an important opportunity to advocate for the Spokane River.  Stay tuned.


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Washington Rivers: For Sale

For Sale: Washington’s rivers and streams
(map: Dept of Ecology)

Okanogan Wilderness League has filed an appeal of a new water right decision, challenging the Washington Department of Ecology’s authority to issue water rights from the Columbia River that are not conditioned on maintaining instream flows.  The appeal also challenges Ecology’s use of “out-of-kind” mitigation that allows the user to pay into a state fund for habitat restoration projects instead of curtailing pumping when river flows are too low.  The price?  $35.00 for every 325,000 gallons sold, er, pumped.

Link here for OWL’s press release regarding its appeal.

New water rights are hard to come by in Washington State.  Most of the state’s rivers and aquifers are over-allocated, particularly during summer months when water demand is high, but rivers are over-heated and lack adequate flows to support healthy fisheries.

These days, almost all new water rights involve purchase and transfer of existing rights, trust water rights, water banking, or other “water-for-water” offsets.   However, in February 2013, the Department of Ecology adopted a water right mitigation policy authorizing itself to issue new water rights based on “out-of-kind” mitigation – that is, a water user can restore habitat or simply pay money in order to get a new water right.

At first blush, habitat restoration is an appealing concept.  Why not restore a wetland, or stabilize a shoreline, or put some logs in a river if it helps aquatic habitat?  The problem is that water is irreplaceable – insufficient quantities of water in a river present a unique problem that usually cannot be fixed by restoring another part of the ecosystem.

The other problem is that would-be water users are very happy to pay into a fund to obtain a water right that will last forever.   Water, after all, is far more valuable than money.

On September 30, 2013, the Department of Ecology issued a large new water right to Kennewick Hospital, now known as Trios Health.  Trios was bequeathed property south of the Tri-Cities, on the Columbia River, and wants to convert it to irrigated land and sell it.  The buyer is Easterday Farms, a large corporate agricultural outfit.  (Easterday Farms is the vegetable growing arm of the family business that also runs Easterday Ranches, owner of massive cattle feedlots in eastern Washington.  More on them at a later date.)

New, unmitigated water rights cannot be had from the Columbia River.   New rights must be conditioned with instream flows or offset with water from another source.  Notwithstanding this rule (discussed in the 10-3-13 Naiads post re the Skagit River court decision), Ecology issued the new right requiring only that Trios pay $35 per acre foot per year into a state fund, up to a maximum of $6 million over a 40-year period in exchange for a water right that will last forever.   Ecology will use these funds to pay for about a dozen habitat restoration projects in the Yakima, Snake and Walla Walla River basins.

The Trios water right is the first unmitigated, non-interruptible water right to issue for Columbia River waters since salmon were listed under the Endangered Species Act.  Ecology claims that this is a unique situation and a rare use of the out-of-kind mitigation policy.  But at least two other recent, large water rights have been issued that rely on off-site habitat restoration as a basis for issuing the right (the City of Olympia/Lacey/Yelm water right package and the Okanogan PUD right for the Enloe dam project on the Similkameen River).

$35 per acre foot equates to $1.00 for every 9,300 gallons of water used.  The public’s water resources have not only been sold, but at a bargain basement rate.

It appears that Washington’s waterways are now officially for sale.