Washington Water Trust seeking partners

By Paul Butler
Methow Valley News

3/12/03

Methow Valley, WA - Among the concerned folks attending the watershed planning unit meetings last weekwere two project managers from the Washington Water Trust.

Peter Dykstra and Lisa Pelly were in the Valley not only to take part of the discussion, but also to check up on current projects and seek out new ones.

Founded in 1998 and based in Seattle, the WWT is a private, non-profit organization that works solely to restore the health of rivers and streams by improving in-stream flow.

According to its literature, "the Washington Water Trust works in eastern and western Washington to identify streams that have a combination of low flows, endangered or threatened fish species, and water right holders willing to sell, lease, or donate their water rights."

The group has several ongoing projects in the Methow Valley with individual landowners on Gold, Libby and Frazier creeks. WWT also works with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Methow River projects.

"Were here trying to work with various government agencies, water districts, water planning units, and individuals to create potential opportunities," said Dykstra.

State water laws allow the transfer of out-of-stream uses to in-stream uses that benefit fish and wildlife. The water rights holders can, on a temporary or permanent basis, permit the WWT to acquire their water for in-stream environmental uses. These rights, after extensive work is done in documenting their legitimacy, assessing their value, and negotiating the transaction, are thentected as a Trust Water Right with the Department of Ecology.

"This is a voluntary, compensation-based approach," explained Pelly. "Were here to help willing peopleit works for some and not for others."

Dykstra and Pelly both emphasized the importance of the Methow Valley in current and future transactions as critical. "It is hugely important to continue and expand the work that has been done so far," said Dykstra.

Returning even a small amount of water to certain streams and tributaries, said Pelly, can have significant benefit providing fish passage, improving summer habitat conditions and other stream restoration goals.

The two project managers negotiate each transaction case-by-case and hope to pursue long-term leases among individual water rights holders as well as groups. For them, this is a healthy alternative to the "use it or lose it" dilemma, especially for rights holders who dont need all their water, all the time.

Jim Mountjoy, a WDFW wildlife area manager overseeing 30,000 acres in the Valley, appreciates working with Water Trust. At the WDFWs Big Valley Wildlife Area, just northwest of Winthrop, 125 acres were taken out of production to create a water trust adding 2.47 cubic feet per second to the in-stream flow of the Methow River.

Putting the water into trust when not being used, "assures we wont lose those water rights in the future," said Mountjoy. Plus, keeping the water in-stream is a healthy alternative for the ecosystem.

"Its compensation for conservation," said Pelly. "Were here to work as partners."

 

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