By Ann McCreary

Twisp’s law prohibiting new wells in town will be amended to allow Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID) to drill four wells for irrigation water, the Town Council decided last week.

The wells are part of MVID’s Instream Flow Improvement Project, which will provide irrigation water from the wells via pressured pipe to about 140 acres on the west side of the Methow River, and end MVID’s diversion of water from the Twisp River.

In order for MVID to drill its production wells, the town’s 11-year-old moratorium on drilling new wells needs to be amended. The town imposed the moratorium on new wells for commercial, residential or irrigation purposes after Twisp was found to be exceeding the amount of water authorized under state law.

The council approved sending the ordinance to the town’s attorney to revise and return by its next meeting on July 8.

“The intent is not to open the door for well drilling in town limits. The intention is that this is to be done in the interest of the greater public,” said Mayor Soo Ing-Moody.

The parcels to be served by the new piped system lie within and outside town boundaries. Those properties are now served by an open ditch that draws water from the Twisp River – a diversion that MVID has been ordered by environmental regulators to end because of damage to endangered fish habitat.

Hans Smith, a Twisp resident and former council member, spoke in favor of  amending the ordinance. “This creates a way for projects like this, with a larger public benefit, to go forward,” he said.

“It’s in the interests of the town as well. It will offset demands on the town water system,” Smith said.

The wells will be drilled in an orchard owned by Dave Schulz behind Hank’s Harvest Foods. The project will require a conditional use permit, and town officials are requiring that some conditions be met.

To protect the wells from vandalism, council members want MVID to erect fencing around them.

The council also asked MVID project managers to respond to a question from council member Traci Day, who asked whether the soil on the orchard property has been sampled and tested for residual concentration of pesticides.

A test well dug in the orchard last year found that the wells would not impact water supplies in nearby private wells or in the town’s municipal well.

The 1.8 mile-long piped system will serve MVID members who live on benches above Twisp, including Painter’s Addition and Lookout Mountain Road, and members who live along Twisp-Carlton Road to near Port Road. Customers south of the piped section will convert to individual wells for irrigation.

MVID’s $10 million improvement project will also redesign the district’s east side canal system, partially replacing the open canal with a piped system that begins near the Lloyd Industrial property and extends to Beaver Creek. Some district members below Beaver Creek will convert to individual wells.

Project manager Gregg Knott said work is expected to begin Oct. 1 on the east side portion. The project has been allocated $6.2 million in Washington state funds that must be spent by June 30, 2015.