Trout die as Little Twin Lake drops - Group favors removing piping on irrigation ditch so water will return to the aquifer and help fish in the lake

By John Hanron
Methow Valley News


While the shores of Little Twin Lake are teeming with life—birds, insects and grasses—it reeks of death also.

Scores of dead trout are washed up on the banks, and an estimated hundreds of more dead fish layer the bottom of the lake.

"I would suspect most of the fish are going to die in the lake," said Chris Pasley, manager of the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery.

Pasley was out taking temperatures and oxygen levels in Little Twin last weekend. The lake was between 72 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit from top to bottom, too warm to support trout over the long term, he said.

"This is all due to the level of the lake dropping," he said. "It’s so low there’s no thermal stratification in the lake."

Typically the lake would have colder water at deeper levels. But both of the Twin Lakes and Barnsley Lake have dropped nearly 11 feet since 1999. Now Little Twin is so shallow it just gets churned up by the wind and warmed by the air and the sun.

Pasley said oxygen levels in the lake were super-saturated, suggesting high levels of microscopic life that aid photosynthesis in the day, and lead to depleted oxygen levels at night.

"It’s a bad situation unless they can get some water in it," Pasley said.

That’s what the Twin Lakes Aquifer Coalition is attempting to do. The group of area residents have compiled a list of options that would help divert water into the lakes to save the fish of Little Twin Lake, the turtles of Barnsley Lake and the domestic water supply of the residents of the area.

The lakes and the associated aquifer depended on water seeping from the Wolf Creek ditch. According to Dick Ewing, a member of the coalition, the ditch added between 650 and 900 acre-feet to the aquifer annually.

The group sees several options to return water to the aquifer. The most favored option is to remove the piping on Wolf Creek ditch and return to the earthen canal.

Barring that, the group is looking at the possibility of obtaining water from one or more of several sources: the high school well, a well leased by Bud Hover on Wolf Creek Road, excess flow from Thompson Creek, and additional water rights designated by adjacent landowners willing to designate water for habitat enhancement.

"What we would like to see happen is a combination of any of the alternatives available," said Ewing. "Any of the options that we are trying to facilitate will not affect the school’s or Wolf Creek’s or any one else’s water rights."

The group met with biologists Joe Foster and Heather Bartlett from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Tuesday (Aug. 6) to look at some of the options. Neither could be reached for comment.

"The critical issue is coming up with enough volume of water to raise the lakes up to the level we’re used to," Ewing said, "then drop back as we find out which ones work the best."

In the meantime, the lakes continue to drop. Traditionally, the lakes reached their seasonal high level in September, at the end of irrigation season. That’s not likely this year.

"My guess," said coalition member Ben Dennis, "is once irrigation systems go out we’ll see a more drastic decline."


Letters to the Editor

Witness to destruction

To the editor:

We own property on Little Twin Lake and our home looks down on Big Twin Lake, so we have been witness to the gradual destruction of the habitat that has been occurring for the past three years.

First it was the nesting ducks and muskrats that disappeared; then the marsh birds, such as the red-winged blackbirds, that no longer nest here; then an almost total depletion of the frog population; then the huge turtle kill on the now former Barnsley Lake; then deer becoming mired and even dying in the deep mud; and now this incredible fish kill on Little Twin Lake.

In addition, a number of local residences have been experiencing well problems and, with the rate of drop in the lakes, many may be without water by next spring.

According to the USGS, Little Twin Lake has officially dropped six and a half inches between June 18 and Aug. 5—in addition to the nine to 10 feet it has declined the last three years. This is the time of the year that the lakes historically rose as a result of irrigation, prior to piping of the ditch.

I am in total amazement with the DOE, NMFS, WDF&W, the Wolf Creek Reclamation District and other supporting parties who endorsed the enclosing of the ditch. I do not understand how Patterson Lake can be higher, for this time in August, than I have seen it in 22 years and that there is not enough water to maintain the habitat and aquifer that was created by the WCRD almost 80 years ago.

It was very apparent that the aquifer and lake levels were the result of the leaking ditch, yet the various agencies and other individuals, with all of their "knowledge, education and data," could not see how this aquifer and habitat would be affected.

I was somewhat dubious about the shutdown of the recent proposed Arrowleaf ski resort but, with what I see that has happened here at Twin Lakes, perhaps more similar efforts should be taken on by citizens committees to prevent destruction of habitat in this very sensitive ecosystem of our beautiful Methow Valley.

Fred Edelman



Time to step forward

Barnsley Lake turtles have either died or are roaming, seeking better habitat as the lake dries up. All the fish in Little Twin Lake are dead as a result of high temperature in low water.

The piping of the Wolf Creek Reclamation Ditch caused these tragedies.

Simply put, while National Marine Fisheries Service, Department of Ecology, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Sun Mountain Lodge and the Wolf Creek Reclamation District play politics with the Methow Valley, we are losing a priceless recreation resource, a nationally registered wetland, the vital source of water for adjacent homeowners and groundwater return to the river for endangered salmon and steelhead—the very fish and wildlife the agencies are mandated to protect.

When government agencies and vested private groups collude, we all lose.

It’s time to step forward and request that all consequences be considered as well as the needs of other affected stakeholders and ecosystems that are losing out because they are not included in the process. This is an emergency and you can be a part of the citizenry who find what is happening, and what will continue to happen, unacceptable.


•Bob Lohn, regional administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service,(206) 526-6150, e-mail:

•Jeff Koenings, director, Washington Department Fish & Wildlife, (360) 902-2225, e-mail:

•Tom Fitzsimmons, director, Washington State Department of Ecology, (360) 407-7001, e-mail: tfit461

•Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, (360) 786-7622, e-mail:

•Gov. Gary Locke, P.O. Box 40002, Olympia, WA 98504, (360) 902-4111, e-mail: via

•Rep. Doc Hastings, (202) 225-5816, (509)-543-9396, (509) 452-3243, fax: (202) 225-3251

Directly involved people who are in-part responsible for current conditions:

•Nim Titcomb, e-mail: ntitcomb (Wolf Creek Reclamation District)

•Jim King, e-mail: (Sun Mountain Lodge)

•John Barline, e-mail: barline (Sun Mountain Lodge attorney)

•Mike Grady, e-mail: micheal.grady

•Greg Knott, e-mail: gknott

•John Stormon, e-mail: jsto461

Twin Lakes Aquifer Coalition:

•Dick Ewing, chairman, e-mail:, 996-2098.

Ben Dennis

Twin Lakes Aquifer Coalition




I am writing this letter to express my outrage at the complete devastation occurring in the Twin Lakes ecosystem.

As I drove home from work, I passed a painted turtle valiantly dragging itself across the road with a crushed and mangled shell after being run over by a car. I stood on the edge of Little Twin Lake this week and smelled the stench of dead fish scattered along the shore. With a degree in wildlife biology, I have a hard time understanding how an organization can decide that the potential habitat of a stream is more important or valuable than the thriving ecosystem that has, up to this point, existed in the Twin Lakes area.

Those of you who had a hand in the decision to line the Wolf Creek ditch, shame on you. I dare you to spend an afternoon in the Twin Lakes community and see what your "educated decision" has accomplished. Pay close attention to the silence surrounding Barnsley Lake with no aquatic life, no birds, no insects, no wildlife. Count the trout rotting along the growing mudbar of a shoreline on Little Twin Lake. Swallow hard and hope with all your heart that the decision you made to destroy this intricate piece of nature’s balance was worth it, because you are fully responsible for every creature that dies as a result of this poorly planned project.

Jennifer Roosma



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