Elements of MVID’s Instream Flow Improvement Project. Map courtesy Van Hees Environmental

Elements of MVID’s Instream Flow Improvement Project. Map courtesy Van Hees Environmental

By Ann McCreary

Twisp officials are considering whether to provide an exception to the town’s longstanding moratorium on well drilling to allow the Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID) to drill wells in an orchard behind Hank’s Harvest Foods.

MVID is proposing to drill four wells as part of the district’s Instream Flow Improvement Project, which will restructure the way MVID delivers water to its members. The wells would provide irrigation water for a new pressurized pipe system to serve 76 parcels within and outside the town boundaries.

The $10 million improvement project is the result of years of regulatory and legal battles over damage to fish habitat as a result of MVID’s diversion of water from the Twisp River.

The project will end that diversion and serve some customers on the district’s west side canal with water pumped from wells and delivered by pressurized pipe. Other customers on MVID’s west side system will convert to wells for irrigation water.

Project planners asked the Twisp Town Council last week for authorization to drill up to four production wells in the orchard, owned by Dave Schulz. The project had initially called for one large well to be drilled and water to be pumped to a storage tank on a nearby hill on property owned by Bill White.

The plans were altered after it was determined that four smaller wells would provide water more efficiently and would be easier to maintain and repair. MVID directors also decided they did not want to construct a reservoir because of concerns about construction costs, maintenance and visual impacts.

A test well dug in the orchard last year found that the well would not impact water supplies in nearby private wells or in the town’s municipal well. Town officials required that those wells be monitored during test drilling to ensure that the well would not diminish water supplies for other users. The same amount of water will be pumped by the four smaller wells, said Justin Nielsen, a project designer.

Town will respond soon

“This will require an exemption or amendment to our ordinance… and [a determination] whether it is something that is in the interest of the town,” said Mayor Soo Ing-Moody, in response to MVID’s proposal.

The town imposed the moratorium on new wells for commercial, residential or irrigation purposes 11 years ago, after Twisp was found to be exceeding the amount of water authorized under state law.

Ing-Moody said she expected the town would be able to provide a response within a month. MVID hopes to begin construction on the Instream Flow Improvement Project in the fall.

The project is under a deadline to get underway because a significant portion of the funding — $6.2 million — is a state legislative appropriation that must be spent by June 30, 2015.

Project manager Gregg Knott said planners anticipate beginning work Oct. 1 on construction of a gravity-pressurized pipe system that will partially replace MVID’s open east canal. The pipe will begin near Mill Hill (near the Lloyd industrial property) and extend to Beaver Creek.

A portion of the MVID canal north of Mill Hill is shared under contract with the Barkley Irrigation Company (BIC), which is considering piping pipe its canal to conserve water.

If BIC directors move ahead with piping that section of the canal, Knott said, the ditch companies “will need to come to an agreement” about how MVID’s water will be delivered.

“We’re designing a temporary intake structure that would allow MVID to begin the pipe at Mill Hill, and when they find out what happens with Barkley, to connect with that system,” Knott said this week.

He said MVID’s east canal project is being designed to accommodate the pressure of a piped system that might someday extend four miles upstream to the existing head gate on the Methow River.

The east canal piped system will supply 249 parcels, including lots east of the Methow River and within the Twisp town limits. Eleven parcels beyond the lower end of the new pipe at Beaver Creek will convert to wells, and property owners who demonstrate the ability to put the water to use will be compensated for well construction “by a process yet to be determined by MVID directors,” according to the latest project description.

MVID’s west side system would deliver water from the wells in the Schulz orchard via a 1.8 mile-long pipe to about 140 acres on benches above Twisp including Painters Addition and Lookout Mountain Road, and extend south along Twisp-Carlton Road to near Port Road.

MVID customers with 89 parcels south of the new piped system will be converted to individual wells, and be compensated if they can demonstrate the ability to use the water.

Water banking agreement

As the district moves forward with design plans, it is also finalizing a water banking agreement with the state Department of Ecology and waiting for decisions on new water permits.

District directors decided to use a water banking approach after determining that it would provide more water and flexibility in the way it can be delivered to district members.

Dan Haller, a water consultant working with MVID on the improvement project, said the trust water agreement between MVID and Ecology, which will govern how the trust operates, is being finalized, and environmental analysis of the project is undergoing review.

Changes in the way the district delivers irrigation water — by wells instead of surface water, for example — requires approval from Ecology. Ecology has issued a preliminary decision that would result in the district having water sufficient to irrigate 1,050 acres. District directors estimate there are about 1,150 irrigable acres in the district.

Ecology is also finalizing decisions regarding new water rights that will govern how water is withdrawn from the water bank, Haller said. Those reports are expected to be issued at the end of the month, and will be subject to a 30-day comment period.

“We’re waiting to see the whole package. When the new permits go on the [Ecology] website for review, that will provide the information to move forward on the trust water agreement,” Haller said.

“The trust water agreement defines the district’s three water rights. The missing piece is to see those same numbers coming back out of the water bank but in different locations, meaning wells,” Haller said.