Methow Valley Irrigation District to respond to Ecology's claim of violation

By John Hanron - Methow Valley News

Methow Valley, WA - 2/6/02 - The Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID) is preparing to respond to a state Department of Ecology claim that the district is in violation of state and federal pollution laws.

Taking an unusual tact, Ecology claims in its Dec. 27, 2001 notice of violation that the MVID is polluting the waters of the Twisp River by inefficiently diverting water from the streamflow.

MVID attorney Richard Price said Ecologyís action was disappointing, coming at a time when the district was nearing agreement with other parties to a negotiated plan of operation that would satisfy irrigators, Indian tribes and state and federal agencies. He characterized the notice of violation as a thinly veiled attempt to undermine the districtís water rights and force it to accept a rehabilitation plan preferred by Ecology.

Ecologyís Thomas Tebb, head of the water quality program of the central region, denied that the agency was trying to force the district to do anything but stop withdrawing more water from the Twisp River than was healthy for the river.

"Thatís not the basis of our action," he said. "We are trying to achieve compliance with the federal Clean Water Act as well as our own state water laws to prevent degradation of water quality on the Twisp River."

Ecology claims that MVID loses 70 percent to 90 percent of the water it diverts to "infiltration and operational spill." It further claimed that an Ecology inspector visited the districtís Twisp River diversion on Aug. 20 and Sept. 28, 2001 and has documented that the district has diverted "nearly the entire flow of the river on at least two days."

Decreasing streamflow that drastically, states Ecology, is akin to polluting the river.

Tebb said he was only aware of one other case where Ecology used pollution laws to address compliance with water quantity issues.

The notice of violation, he said, was a joint effort of the DOEís water quality program and its water resources program, which also focuses on water quantity.

MVID had been given 30 days from the Dec. 27 notice to respond, but Price said the board just considered the first draft of the response at a meeting Monday (Feb. 4).

He said he expected the response to be "an epistle," a lengthy, detailed response pointing toward all of the work that the district has completed to come into compliance with state and federal water laws.

"Itís unfortunate that Ecology is trying to bring pressure at this time when facilitation of trying to reach an agreement is close at hand," Price said. "It is polluting the waters, if you will, of what the district is trying to do."

Tebb said the agency is considering its next move, since it hadnít heard from the district by the 30-day deadline.

"We want to work with them to the degree that we can, and to the degree that they are willing, to rectify the situation," he said.

While the Yakama Nation and some agencies want the district to abandon its surface diversion on the Twisp River, the district maintains that a total switch to wells and pumping stations would be prohibitively expensive. It is pushing for a partial move to wells, maintaining surface diversions for high-flow periods of the irrigation season.

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