By Ann McCreary
The Town of Twisp “is a poster child for water conservation,” according to a consultant who prepared a water system plan for the town.
“I’ve worked with lots and lots of communities. None have reduced water use by two-thirds in the last 20 years,” said Dave VanCleve.
None, that is, except Twisp.
VanCleve completed a water system plan, required every six years by the state Department of Health, for the town this month. In a review of his findings for the Twisp Town Council, he had praise for the way the town has managed its water use over the past 25 years.
The town’s water use during that period has seen an overall decline from a high of almost 650 acre-feet per year in 1987 to about 189 acre-feet in 2013.
“The steady decline is helping with your water rights situation now and in the future,” said VanCleve, referring to Twisp’s ongoing efforts to obtain additional new water rights.
VanCleve said two actions by the town have helped curb water use. From 1996-1997 the town added water meters and instituted an inclining block rate policy, meaning that “the more you use the more you get charged.”
The town also has undertaken a campaign to identify and fix leaks and encourage consumers to use less water, he said.
Based on the town’s current legal year-round allocation of 224 acre-feet of water, the town has the capacity to provide service to an estimated 137 single-family homes, VanCleve said.
However, council members noted that figure does not include about 50 potential new homes that would be built in new subdivisions that are in various stages of approval by the town.
More water, more homes
The town and Methow Valley Irrigation District have signed an agreement under which MVID would sell 138 acre-feet of irrigation water rights to the town. If that deal goes through, the town would have adequate water to provide service to about 1,000 new single-family homes, VanCleve said.
The state Department of Ecology approved changes in existing water rights that would allow the water rights purchased from MVID to be used for municipal use, and issued new water rights that are offset by the changes. However, Ecology’s decision was appealed by Okanogan Wilderness League, a local environmental organization. The appeal is expected to be heard by the Pollution Control Hearings Board this summer.
The water system plan outlines about $5 million in major capital improvements needed in the town’s water system. At the top of the list is repairing a water main that crosses the Methow River on a trestle north of the Highway 20 bridge. The 1950s-era water line has developed cracks and needs $490,000 in repairs.
Other improvements include addressing issues with town wells, improving water pressure in some areas of town and upgrading aging water mains throughout the system.
In order to fund the projects, VanCleve advised seeking a federal Rural Development loan, which would likely require an increase in rates to repay. Every $1 million borrowed would require a $6 increase in rates, he said.
VanCleve also suggested that town officials consider increasing water and sewer connection charges to help finance needed improvements. The town conducted a connection charge study 10 years ago and has not increased fees, which are $2,500 each for water and sewer hookup, since that study.
Twisp is “on the low end” in the amount charged for water and sewer connections, VanCleve said. “The range for eastern Washington cities is $3,000 to $15,000,” he said.