By Ann McCreary
Twisp officials are keeping a tally of the amount of water available to serve new residential and commercial development, particularly in light of an increase over the past year in proposals to subdivide property for new home lots.
Twisp currently has fewer than 70 hookups available for new residences, town officials estimate.
Water is an especially precious commodity to Twisp, after the state Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the town had lost substantial water rights from the Methow River because they had not been used for many years.
Through conservation efforts, Twisp decreased its municipal water use between 1987 and 2013 by more than 430 acre-feet, a 330-percent reduction, according to a consultant’s report on the town’s water conservation efforts.
The report, completed in December by Aspect Consulting, said repairs to the town’s water system over the past seven years have produced savings of about 102 gallons per minute, or 164 acre-feet per year.
The town’s legal water rights are limited to 224 acre-feet per year as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, which came in response to a lawsuit from the Okanogan Wilderness League (OWL), a local environmental organization.
That decision prompted the town to impose a moratorium on new wells and threatened to restrict future development because the town could not guarantee available water for new homes and businesses.
The town has been leasing water from Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID) to provide seasonal irrigation water, and last year entered into a purchase and sale agreement with MVID that would transfer 138-acre-feet of water rights to Twisp, and includes a commitment by MVID to provide 262-acre-feet of irrigation water within the town.
A water rights change that would allow the agreement to go forward was approved by the state Department of Ecology, but has been appealed by OWL.
Aspect Consulting said the town has worked to conserve water through rate structures that incentivize conservation, installing meters and providing water conservation education materials to town residents.
The town currently has plans for 11 projects, for a total cost of about $4.8 million, aimed at repairing leaks and improving the town’s water system, the report said.