Push is on to get money for Twin Lakes recovery - Piped irrigation ditches causing wells, lakes to dry up
Methow Valley, WA - Proponents of restoring water to Big and Little Twin lakes and Barnsley Lake near Winthrop are enlisting support of local governments to try to expedite a solution.
Dick Ewing of the Twin Lakes Aquifer Coalition appeared before the Okanogan County Commission Tuesday and
the Twisp Town Council last week to seek their endorsements for proposals that would restore water to the lakes.
The lakes lost one of their water sources in 2001 when the Wolf Creek Reclamation District enclosed its irrigation ditches. Built in the mid-1920s, the Wolf Creek irrigation district’s open ditches leaked about 600 acre-feet of water into the ground every year for nearly 80 years, creating the three lakes, according to Ewing.
When Wolf Creek Reclamation was required to become more efficient and pipe its irrigation water as a result of Endangered Species Act enforcement, the water source for Barnsley and the Twin Lakes was cut off and the lakes began drying up.
Time is of the essence in restoring the lakes, said Ewing, who is chairman of the Twin Lakes Aquifer Coalition (TLAC), a group representing about 400 residents and property owners in the Twin Lakes area, and other interested people including fly fishermen who use the lakes.
The longer it takes to begin restoration of the lakes, the more water will be required to bring them back to their former state, Ewing said. And, the longer the lakes are without a water source, the greater the harm to recreation, the riparian habitat, and the aquifer, Ewing added.
In his presentations to local government leaders, Ewing is seeking consensus that the problem needs to be solved for reasons of water quality, economic concerns, and the environmental health of the community. He is emphasizing the need to move quickly, with a goal of getting funding from the legislature before the end of the current session and beginning work on a restoration project by the end of summer.
Ewing told the Twisp Council on Feb. 25 that the loss of water in the lakes is causing hardship to nearby residents.
"We already have three wells without water, and some examples of groundwater deteriorating." He said the loss of fishing and boating at the lakes is causing economic damage because adding that sport fishing at the lakes generated about $200,000 annually in related revenues.
Bringing water to the lakes will require approval from the state Department of Ecology to divert water from other sources–an approval process that could normally take several years.
"The DOE operates on the basis that the greatest public good must be fulfilled," Ewing said. A strong showing of support from local government leaders and citizens will help convince the DOE of the need to find a solution should be addressed quickly, Ewing said.
Working with an engineering firm, TLAC has identified five proposals, varying in complexity and cost, to bring water to the lakes. The goal is to secure 2,000 acre-feet of water per year over a five-year period to restore the lakes to their pre-2001 level. Once the lakes are restored, 600 acre-feet of water will be required to maintain them, Ewing says.
Among the options under consideration is obtaining an interruptible water right to withdraw water from a well that would be located near the Methow River between the two fish hatcheries near Winthrop, and piping the water from the well directly to the lakes. The well is expected to produce about 600-acre-feet of water a year, and would be used for about 80 days. Ewing said the water would be withdrawn from the well during high river flows, and the water stored in the Twin Lakes aquifer would flow back into the river later in the summer and fall during low flows, improving habitat for endangered salmon during their migration period.
Another option would bring water to the lakes by diverting water from Thompson Creek, south of the rodeo grounds near Twin Lakes Road, into a natural sinkhole on the rodeo grounds. Ewing said past history has shown that water flowing into the sinkhole raises the water level in Big Twin Lake. That Thompson Creek source could provide up to 1,000 acre-feet of water. Additional water from other sources in the area would still be required to provide the 2,000 acre-feet needed to restore the lakes.
Ewing said the estimated cost for Twin Lakes restoration would be about $1.2 million if all the options identified by engineers needed to be used. Twisp Mayor Mike Price asked Ewing what Wolf Creek Reclamation District spent to enclose its irrigation system, and Ewing said the project cost about $750,000.
"We’re looking at over $2 million to get no net effect,"
Price observed. The Twisp Council asked Ewing to draft a letter, endorsing
the lake restoration proposals, for the council to consider.
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