twinlakeBy Marcy Stamper

After a year-long analysis of a proposal to pump water from the Methow River and store it in Big and Little Twin lakes, county and state agencies have determined that the project would not have significant environmental impacts and have withdrawn the requirement for a formal environmental review.

The proposal by the Twin Lakes Aquifer Coalition is intended to enhance recreational trout fishing in the lakes and restore riparian and lowland habitat for aquatic species and mammals near the lakes, which are located between Winthrop and Twisp.

After an initial analysis in the fall of 2012 that the project could have a probable significant adverse environmental impact, Okanogan County and the Washington Department of Ecology asked for a list of questions to address in an environmental impact statement (EIS). In addition to answering scoping questions and looking at the impacts of a proposed project, an EIS examines other alternative to achieve similar objectives.

Since then, Aspect Consulting, a consultant hired by the aquifer coalition, has been evaluating two of the key questions — the project’s impact on water flows that form channels to the river and on salmon recovery.

 

Neutral impacts

Aspect determined in a preliminary study released in April that the diversions from the river would be so small that they would not affect the formation of channels at peak flows. They also found that the effect on stream functions and fish passage would be neutral.

As a result of this investigation, the county and Ecology — who are sharing the role of lead agency — withdrew their determination of significance under the State Environmental Policy Act last week and replaced it with a determination of non-significance. According to state law, a determination of significance can be withdrawn if a proposal has been changed so there will no longer be any significant adverse impacts.

In this case the design of the Twin Lakes project has not changed, but Aspect’s findings that its effects on stream functions and fish would be neutral formed the basis for the decision to forego the EIS.

The new determination says that requirements for environmental analysis and protection have been adequately addressed. It lists five components of the project that may require environmental review as the evaluation of the proposal continues. Those include drilling and testing water-supply wells and comparing the results of those tests to computer models, preparing an operating plan and timeline for the project, and addressing any new issue that are identified during well testing.

If it goes forward, the project will be evaluated to see if it meets the criteria of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River, which was established by the Legislature in 2006 to identify programs that would provide water through storage for in- and out-of-stream uses and for fisheries.

The consultants are finalizing the scope of work for the next stages of the proposed water-storage project, which will probably be available for review by the aquifer coalition and Ecology in January, according to Dick Ewing, chair of the board of the aquifer coalition.

Research and monitoring at the lakes and nearby aquifers has been funded through grants from the state Legislature over the past decade, according to Ewing.

Anyone who commented on the project or submitted questions to address in the EIS can appeal the decision within 14 days of the determination of non-significance. Those appeals are due Dec. 26.

For information, contact planner Charlene Schumacher at (509) 422-7113 or cschumacher@co.okanogan.wa.us.