By Sarah Schrock
The law of unintended consequences is flowing through my neighborhood, causing minor detours and distress. It all started about 100 years ago, but I will get to that in bit.
Conflict regarding water management in the Town of Twisp and within the Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID) is nothing original. A complex history rife with lawsuits and finger-pointing plagues our community. To end years of battling with the Department of Ecology over the amount of water withdrawn from the Twisp River, the MVID underwent an extensive planning process in 2011 to review a series of alternatives that would carve a path towards compliance and ensure that the Town of Twisp would have sufficient domestic water.
The final plan of that process broke ground last year, resulting in the piping and filling in of miles of ditches along the east and west canals of the district. The project abandoned the Twisp River altogether in place of a downstream withdrawal from the Methow River and a number of groundwater wells to irrigate lands that would otherwise be left dry with the piped canals. Additionally, the Town of Twisp secured much-needed water for development from the district. All told, the project is a massive restructuring of the irrigation and water infrastructure in and around town.
The nearly ancient west canal previously ran from 4 miles up Twisp River almost all the way to Carlton. The aging waterway was riddled with maintenance hassles and blowouts, rendering the delivery of water unreliable and silt-laden, creating a nuisance to irrigators. The newly piped system should relieve these obstacles and deliver pressurized, clean flowing water from wells on the Methow River. Now, enter the unintended consequences.
When the original west canal was dug along the toes of the slopes above town in the beginning of the 20th century, along with the delivery of irrigation the orchards flanking the hills, it captured and retained runoff. This is the first of the unintended consequences, albeit a benign one, and possibly a desirable byproduct that would facilitate future development.
Later in the mid-century era, Painter’s Addition was platted where orchards once stood, and homes started springing up. Likely the town had no planning review, so the dry gully that once carried snowmelt went undetected, having been dry for a quarter-century. Filled and poured, foundations were laid in the path where the water once ran.
Fast forward to 2016, when the ditch gets filled in as part of the MVID project and we have snow pack nearing 150 percent of normal, coupled with an early melt off, resulting in the law of unintended consequences rushing downhill to its historic path carrying about 1 cubic feet per second of gravel, and silt. Only this time the creek happens to run right through a neighborhood, undermining foundations and yards.
Temporary measures by the town to divert, ditch and direct the flow have saved the houses in the path of the water for now. The new creek has brought lots of neighbors out to chat as it sheets across roadways, runs behind berms, and forms a new pond in the Friggiones’ back yard. Kids are playing in the stream, splashing in the street, coming home with ankles caked in mud.
While the town and MVID hash out a plan to avoid future runoff, the ordeal is a vivid reminder that no matter what we do to the land, water, and air there will always be consequences that are unforeseen. And that after a century of modifications to the land, there are more questions than answers to finding who’s to blame. The only certainty is that no matter how hard we try to control Mother Nature, she will always assert herself.