Twisp mayor shying away from water lease
The Twisp Town Council is almost ready to cut its first check for leased water rights from the Methow Valley Irrigation District, but the mayor is warning that the move could be a mistake.
The Town, over the past three years, has negotiated a water lease contract with MVID, wherein the municipality would lease the rights to 200 acre feet of water annually for $10,000.
The acquisition of the rights would bring the Town into compliance with state water law. Since the Town lost nearly half of its water rights in a 1998 State Supreme Court decision, it has been using more water than it has the rights to, and has been unable to legally add more customers to its sewer and water system.
The limitations have held up major developments, such as the proposed call center and the Isabella adult care facility, and has affected development at the vacant Twisp Business Park site.
Mayor Mike Price is concerned that potential pressure from the Department of Ecology on the MVID will force the irrigation district to back out of the lease down the road. He worries that development projects that have been given the green light could become potential litigants if those leased rights are suddenly taken away.
"Since we negotiated the lease, some fundamental things have changed," he said. "I’m concerned that Twisp is getting itself into a situation where, by relying on this lease, it’s opening itself to potential litigation and legal difficulties in the future due to legal struggles between DOE and the MVID."
Ecology’s approval of the change of point of diversion application OK’d the switch from surface diversions to Twisp town wells, but also contained maximum diversion amounts that the agency said the MVID must abide by. The district has appealed the decision because of the inclusion of those numbers, which it said amounts to administrative adjudication.
Bob Barwin, with Ecology’s water resources division, said the numbers were the same as those issued last year in an order to the MVID and "define the upper limit of what Ecology believes is a reasonable amount for the district to divert." He added that the irrigation district in the past two years has stayed within those limits.
The approval of the change means that Ecology has determined that the district has sufficient water to meet the needs of its members—including the 200 acre feet for Twisp—with its existing system.
But the mayor is not convinced. He wants the MVID to guarantee in writing that for at least five years, it will not activate the lease’s escape clause, which allows the MVID to back out if it believes its members are not getting adequate water.
MVID director Vaughn Jolley said the district is unlikely to make any more changes to the agreement.
"I think the district has done all it can do," he said. "It’s getting to where there’s no benefit to the district in continuing to approve Mike Price’s changes."
He added that the district has an incentive to keep the lease going because it proves beneficial use for that amount of water and provides income to the district.
Twisp councilman Fred Cooley agrees, and says the Town needs to do something to get the ball rolling.
"It makes no sense to do nothing," he said. "The deal is already signed. It all hinges on people’s interpretation of risk. I think there’s a higher risk in doing nothing.
"We need to be able to allow for a little more growth," he said. "I really think the Town of Twisp should go on with the deal. It’s motion."
The council is expected to act on the issue at its next meeting Tuesday (Jan. 14) at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
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