By Ann McCreary

Construction is expected to get underway as early as next month on a redesigned system to deliver irrigation water to Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID) members.

Called the Instream Flow Improvement Project, the new MVID delivery system is designed to end MVID’s diversion of water from the Twisp River. For more than 20 years MVID has been embroiled in regulatory and legal battles related to the diversion and its impact on fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The $10 million project is also intended to provide consistent water delivery to MVID members, something many members at the lower end of the ditches have not always known.

Bids for construction of the first phase of the project — a piped system to replace MVID’s open canal on the east side of the Methow River — were expected to be opened this week. That canal diverts water from the Methow River.

MVID recently overcame a hurdle to the improvement project when the Twisp Town Council revised a longstanding ordinance prohibiting drilling of new wells in town, which allowed the irrigation company to drill four wells in an orchard behind Hank’s Harvest Foods.

The town’s revised ordinance permits new groundwater wells that have been determined by the Town Council “to be in the best interests of the town, town residents or the public at large.” The town has also approved a conditional use permit for the well field.

The wells will provide water for a pressurized pipe system that will replace part of MVID’s canal on the west side of the Methow River. Water for that canal comes from the diversion on the Twisp River.

Gregg Knott, project manager, said MVID will seek bids for development of the well field this week, and work on that part of the project will also begin this fall.

Project planners have been working under a deadline to get the project underway, because a significant part of the funding — $6.8 million — comes from a legislative appropriation to the Department of Ecology and must be spent by the end of June 2015. 

The remaining funding for the project comes from grants obtained by Trout Unlimited for salmon recovery and mitigation for Columbia River dams.

Converting to wells

About 73 customers living in and near Twisp will be served by the West Side pipe system, according to the project description. From the wells behind Hank’s the pipeline will head west to Twisp-Carlton Road, where it will divide into two routes. One route will carry water underneath the road to the existing MVID West Canal, through Painters Addition and then follow the alignment of the existing canal to the end of the pipe near Lookout Mountain.

A pipeline serving the south end of the system will parallel the Twisp-Carlton road to a crossing near the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, ending about 1.5 miles down the road.

About three miles at the upper end of the West Canal system and about six miles at the lower end will be decommissioned and district members on those sections will receive compensation to dig wells for irrigation. The lower part of the East Canal will be also be decommissioned. Two of MVID’s three directors are among the members who will convert to wells.

Knott said about 80 parcels will be excluded from the district and property owners will be compensated for the costs of drilling wells. He said the project team is working to establish a compensation package for drilling individual wells. It will most likely involve a voucher system to pay well drillers, pump installers, electricians and others involved in developing private wells, Knott said.

Based on geology reports, the average well is anticipated to be about 100 feet deep, Knott said. In some cases, property owners may simply need to expand the capacity of existing wells.

MVID serves 283 members. For some members with property near the end of the irrigation canals, wells will provide more reliable irrigation water than the canals have over the years, because of leaks and inefficiencies in the existing system.

“The idea is to get everybody a working well and provide … the amount of water they’re legally entitled to,” Knott said. “For some people they will have water for the first time.”