Public offers feedback on final draft of watershed plan
Methow Valley News
Methow Valley, WA - The fifth draft of the Methow Basin Watershed
Plan had a public airing at a low-key meeting Saturday night (Oct.
18). Although dubbed a final draft, the plan is likely to undergo
further changes as comments from state agencies, compiled by the Department
of Ecology, are incorporated before the Oct. 31 deadline.
The public will have an opportunity to review the final version during
the county commissionersí review period.
The draft presented at Saturdayís meeting is substantially different
from earlier drafts, according to John Stormon, watershed planning
lead for the Department of Ecology. Among other things, it incorporates
information from a recently released U.S. Geological Survey study
of ground and surface water exchanges in the Methow basin.
The planning unitís recognition of the benefits of open irrigation
canals and recommendations for water storage are "first and foremost"
in the new document, said planning unit coordinator Dick Ewing. New
storage areas could include raising the level of Patterson Lake and
saturating Elbow Coulee with water, said Ewing.
Of the 30 people attending Saturdayís meeting, only two offered official
comments, but many requested clarification of the planís conclusions
Much of the discussion focused on the ramifications of the planning
unitís reliance on a figure of 600 gallons per day for average residential
water use (rather than the allowable maximum of 5,000 gallons per
day) as the basis of their projections.
Several people expressed concern about the prospect of increased development,
as the 600-gallon-per-day figure would theoretically provide adequate
water for up to 15,000 households. It was noted that 13,000 is the
maximum buildout given current zoning, and that at present, there
are about 3,000 residences in the valley.
Other concerns focused on funding for the Methow Watershed Council,
a publicly controlled group that the planning unit proposes to oversee
implementation of the recommended strategies. Ewing noted that they
already have a commitment of $100,000 annually for four years from
the state, and hope to acquire matching grants.
Many at the meeting questioned the support of DOE for changing the
Methow Rule, which established base streamflows, restricts exempt
wells to single-family domestic use and prevents transfer of forfeited
water rights. Ewing explained that because Stormon represents the
DOE on the planning unit, the agency, in voting for the final plan,
will have in essence approved any rule change.
Lee Bernheisel, with the Okanogan Wilderness League, launched the
public comment period, declaring, "In a word, I hate this plan."
He decried its failure to consider statewide issues for instream flows
to preserve fish habitat, calling it a plan acceptable to local people
with a vested interest in preserving out-of-stream uses.
By allowing commercial uses before instream flows, Bernheisel warned,
the plan will alter the rural character of the Methow Valley. It would
also increase inefficiencies of the irrigation canals and compound
the problem by undoing efficiencies currently built into the system,
Bernheisel agreed that the plan correctly looks at some benefits of
water recharge, but "fails miserably" to look at the negative
impact on fish.
Vicky Welch, delivering the only other public comment, congratulated
the team for its emphasis on agriculture, water storage, preservation
of habitat and collection of data. Getting the state to recognize
the water-storage function of canals is positive, she noted, but the
plan should also look at water management of riparian areas.
Welch saved her strongest language for what she termed the planning
unitís "Enron accounting"óbasing calculations on 600 gallons
per day when rights are still granted at 5,000 gallons per day. If
policy is not based on metering data, senior water rights will be
jeopardized, she warned.
"Water availability should be tied to actual river flows,"
Others wishing to contribute comments should send them to the Methow
Basin Planning Unit, P.O. Box 247, Twisp, WA 98856, or by e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org. People submitting comments must include their name,
address and contact information. Public comments are being accepted
in writing until 5 p.m. on Friday (Oct. 24), by mail or e-mail.
Copies of the draft plan can be obtained at the USFS office in Twisp,
by e-mail from email@example.com, or online at www.okanogancounty.org
under water resources.