Methow Valley Irrigation District ordered to cut back water use

By John Hanron
Methow Valley News


Methow Valley, WA - The Methow Valley Irrigation District has been given an early Christmas gift by the Department of Ecology: cut its irrigation diversions down to nearly half of what it is now using by2007 or face the consequences.

Ecology served a notice to the irrigation district Dec. 19, spelling out directives aimed at forcing the district to become less wasteful with water it is diverting out of the Twisp and Methow rivers.

The MVID, which last year, according to chairman Vaughn Jolley, redirected about 53 cfs from its two diversions combined, will have to lower that number to 31 cfs by the 2007 irrigation season. Ecology said for the next two years the district will only be allowed to divert 41 cfs–21 cfs from the Twisp River and 20 cfs from the Methow River. According to Ecology records, the district has historically diverted as much as 90 cfs from the two sites.

"I have no idea if we could even achieve what they’re proposing," said Jolley, who called the order an illegal adjudication of the district’s water rights.

The state Pollution Control Hearings Board last August denied an MVID appeal of a 2002 Ecology order that demanded the district cease wasting water, limiting the diversions to a combined amount of 53 cfs. But the PCHB went a step further, agreeing with a claim by the Okanogan Wilderness League that the permitted amounts might be too lenient, and ordered the DOE to review the diversion numbers.

The new, more restrictive numbers amount to about 10,070 acre-feet of water in a growing year for the district’s 1,300 irrigable acres.

Ecology maintains that "the district is wasteful, that improvements are possible, and funding is available to make improvements to achieve reasonable system efficiencies."

"The district is not opposed to increasing efficiencies," counters Jolley, "but is opposed to relinquishing our members’ historic water rights. In the past three years we have reduced our diversions by over 50 percent, excluded half of our members at DOE’s request, replaced miles of lateral distribution lines, adopted a canal rehabilitation plan, obtained funding to replace fish screens to be ESA compliant and have adopted final engineering plans to replace both our Twisp and Methow river diversion dams."

Bonneville Power Administration is putting up the $1.2 million for new fish screens, to be installed this spring. The Bureau of Reclamation is working with the district on plans to redesign its two diversion dams, and the district board recently approved a $2 million to $3 million rehabilitation plan for the main canals, including some piping, some lining and some concrete reinforcements. The district is looking for money for this project.

"We’ve done more than any other district in the Northwest," Jolley claimed.

The district has appealed to Superior Court the PCBH ruling that led to the most recent Ecology order. Jolley said he expects the case to be heard next summer.

The MVID will be getting a new director next month when Tim Johnson replaces Mike Gage, whose term expires at the end of the year. Johnson will join Jolley and Greg Nordang on the board.


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