Public offers feedback on final draft of watershed plan

By Marcy Stamper
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 and proposals.

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, he said.

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," said Welch.

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 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, or online at under water resources.


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