Project will convert canals to covered pipe system
By Ann McCreary
Crews began installing new irrigation pipe this week to serve Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID) customers living within Twisp town limits.
As work progresses over the next couple of months, residents will see construction crews digging ditches and laying pipe in Twisp east of the Methow River on property north and south side of Highway 153, beginning on the Lloyd industrial park property.
The work is part of the $10 million Instream Flow Improvement Project that broke ground last fall and will change MVID’s two open canals to a piped system, with the primary objective of leaving more water in the Twisp and Methow rivers for fish.
The project doesn’t only benefit fish, said Greg Knott, project manager. Delivering water via enclosed pipes also means that some MVID customers who have never received irrigation water because of low water pressure or broken pipes will finally be able to irrigate, Knott said.
In Twisp, the new underground irrigation system will connect about 73 MVID customers to the new gravity-fed pipe installed last fall to replace part of MVID’s open ditch that diverts water from the Methow River near the North Cascades Smokejumper Base and carried it south to Beaver Creek.
About 9,000 linear feet of pipe in Twisp will be installed in coming weeks by Lloyd Logging Inc., which was awarded the contract for the job.
“Some properties never have been served” in the area to be provided new irrigation pipes, Knott said. The open canal system didn’t provide adequate pressure to reach some customers in town, or the pipe system was broken, he said. New pipes are needed to handle the increased pressure from the gravity-fed piped system.
The work is expected to be completed by June. MVID begins providing water on May 1, and it is possible that some MVID customers in the construction area may not receive irrigation water until the project is completed in June, Knott said.
During construction, some town streets may be dug up but none will be closed entirely, so residents will have access to their homes and businesses, Knott said. Any damage to vegetation or property as a result of the project will be repaired, he said.
In addition to the piping project in Twisp, several other elements of the Instream Flow Improvement Project are underway, Knott said.
Crews will be completing work in coming weeks on the east canal pipe, which broke ground last October. The pipe carries water about 4.5 miles south from the industrial park to Beaver Creek, and serves 253 parcels.
Areas where the pipe is still uncovered will be covered, construction materials will be cleaned up and some trees will be removed, Knott said. The first application of grass seed over the disturbed areas will also be made. “We anticipate that we’ll seed several times” to restore the vegetation disturbed during construction, he said.
Work will begin March 23 on replacing five lateral irrigation lines that branch off the lower part of the new pipe and serve MVID members south of the Twisp Municipal Airport. The pipes need to be replaced because the old pipes can’t handle the pressure of the new gravity-fed system, Knott said. The work will be completed by May 1, when the district begins providing water.
As in the town, many of the properties on the lower end of MVID’s east canal have not received water due to low pressure, and will be able to irrigate for the first time, Knott said. MVID members who did not receive water have paid administrative fees to be part of the district, although they did not pay for water delivery, he said.
“It’s a new ballgame on the east canal. We hope a vast improvement,” Knott said.
Work is also underway on MVID’s west side canal, which diverts water from the Twisp River about three miles upstream of Lookout Mountain and carries it south to near Carlton. That diversion has been the principal cause of years of regulatory and legal battles between MVID and state and federal environmental agencies, which said taking water from Twisp River damaged habitat for endangered fish.
The Instream Flow Improvement Project calls for building a pressurized pipe system about 1.8 miles long that will be fed by four wells dug last year in the orchard behind Hank’s Harvest Foods market.
Work on wells
Work will continue this summer on developing the wells — installing screens, pumps and constructing a building to house the controls for the system and fencing around the wells, said Torre Stockard, assistant project manager.
A request for bids was recently issued for contractors to build MVID’s west side distribution system. The contract calls for installation of the pipe to begin this summer and be completed by December.
The contractor will hook the system into the well field next spring, and the new system is expected to be operating by the beginning of the irrigation season in May 2016, Stockard said.
When the ditch, constructed in the early 1900s, shuts down in October this year, “that will be the last time water runs in that ditch,” Knott said.
At project’s end, MVID’s west side system will be “dramatically downsized” as a result of an order from the state Department of Ecology that reduced the amount of water MVID could withdraw from the rivers, Knott said.
The lower 8 miles and upper 3 miles of the west side canal will be shut down, and 75 customers formerly served by the canal will dig new individual wells or upgrade existing wells to provide irrigation water. Eleven members on the south end of the east side pipeline will also convert to wells. All members converting to wells will be compensated for the cost of the conversion or upgrade.
The wells were made possible by a water rights change approved by Ecology, and through $1.3 million from the Priest Rapids Coordinating Committee, part of Grant County Public Utility District dam mitigation funding.
The well conversions are underway and several wells have already been drilled, Knott said. Members converting to wells are grouped geographically and the conversions are taking place on a staggered basis, with the first conversions at the most southern end of the canal and working north.
Each group has a deadline by which the canal will be shut down above them and wells must be completed or risk losing water. Any members who have not completed their wells by Dec. 1 will not be eligible for compensation, Knott said.
The deadline for the first group at the end of the canal is May 1, Knott said. As deadlines for well completion for each group approaches, “they need to get cracking or they’re going to be left high and dry,” he said.
All members are being contacted by project managers about the changes and how to proceed with drilling new wells, and all but about 15 have responded, Knott said. Those not responding are mostly absentee property owners or LLCs, he said.
Part of the $1.3 million available for wells is in a contingency fund, to address problems with inadequate well production or to correct problems if new wells impact production of nearby wells, Knott said.
West canal deadline
Another deadline is looming for MVID members on the west canal. They will need to work with project managers to identify any trees that they want to retain after the canal is shut down.
Plans call for removing all deciduous trees along the abandoned canal route, because loss of water from the open ditch means many may die. All coniferous trees will be left standing, unless the property owner and MVID agree that they are a potential hazard, Knott said.
Property owners will need to sign a liability waiver accepting responsibility for any deciduous trees they want to keep. Knott said tree removal is scheduled to begin in December.
The Instream Flow Improvement Project is moving forward despite an appeal filed last year by Lee Bernheisel of the Okanogan Wilderness League that challenges Ecology’s approval of changes in points of diversion and the quantity of water MVID is allowed. That appeal is expected to be heard before the state Pollution Control Hearings Board sometime this summer or fall, according to MVID officials.
“Ecology has allowed us to proceed under the assumption that we will have the amount of water MVID has applied for and, if not, the system will still operate with less water,” Knott said.
For information about the Instream Flow Improvement Project, contact Roger Rowatt, email@example.com or (509) 699-8141.