By Ann McCreary
A test well was drilled in an orchard behind Hank’s Harvest Foods in Twisp last week to determine if it could provide enough water to serve Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID) customers through a piped irrigation system.
But the project came to a halt Tuesday (Oct. 1) as a result of the federal government shutdown.
A hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation, who is serving as an adviser on the well project, was recalled to her office in Boise, Idaho, as the impasse in Congress over the federal budget continued.
The test well in the orchard owned by Dave Schulz is part of the MVID’s “Instream Flow Improvement Project,” which ultimately will dramatically reduce the size of the district and change the way it operates.
Project manager Gregg Knott received permission to drill the well last week from the Twisp Town Council, after council members decided a decade-long moratorium on drilling new wells in town did not apply to “test” wells.
Knott told council members that it is hoped the well will produce about 1,200 gallons per minute. Plans called for pump testing on Monday and Tuesday, but that was put on hold because the Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist was furloughed as a result of the government shutdown.
“We’re at the mercy of Congress,” Knott said Monday.
If the water supply does prove to be adequate, the MVID project proposes pumping water through a pressurized pipe to about 140 acres on benches above Twisp, including Painters Addition and Lookout Mountain Road, and south to the beaver ponds on the Twisp-Carlton Road.
Twisp Council members debated whether the well drilling should be allowed, but decided that the town’s ordinance was “silent” with regard to test wells. Knott acknowledged that if the water production is adequate, he would likely return to the council in the future to ask for an exemption to the moratorium on wells.
After drilling for two days last week, the drill hit bedrock at 60 feet, Knott said. “We were getting 240 gallons per minute from a very small opening,” he said. Those results made him “cautiously optimistic” that a larger well on the site might be capable of producing enough water.
“As soon as we determine the site is suitable we would come back with a formal proposal to the town no later than November,” Knott said. The MVID project is on a very tight schedule because federal funding for the construction must be spent by June 2015, Knott said.
Town officials required that a town well 1,500 feet away near the end of Marble Street, as well as nearby private wells, be monitored during the well test to make sure that a well in the Schulz orchard wouldn’t adversely impact the water supply for those wells.
“When you punch a hole into the ground and pull out 1,200 gallons per minute … it could affect our well,” said Howard Moss, Twisp public works superintendent. He said the town well produces about 450 gallons per minute.
Moss said the town would need to be protected by a permit that would require MVID to reduce the volume or stop pumping if the well impacted the town’s water supply.
MVID’s Instream Flow Improvement Project would ultimately end diversion of water from the Twisp River and shut down the district’s 12-mile long West Side canal that runs along hillsides above Twisp and ends a few miles above Carlton.
About 80 parcels now served by the West Side ditch will be excluded from the district under the Instream Flow Improvement Project, and the property owners will be compensated for the cost of digging individual wells.
Changes to the district’s East Side canal would include installing a gravity-fed pipe just north of the Lloyd industrial property and extending to Beaver Creek. Several parcels on the lower end of the new pipe would be converted to wells.
The $8.7 million project is the result of years of legal battles and negotiations between MVID, regulatory agencies and nonprofit conservation groups related to the water MVID takes from the Twisp River and the impacts on endangered fish.