New system has created some confusion
By Ann McCreary
The complexities of water rights, along with construction of a new $10 million irrigation system, add up to a lot of confusion for many Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID) members.
About 40 MVID members attended the district’s annual equalization meeting Monday (Oct. 26) to discuss their payments to the district and the larger question of how many acres of land in the district that can potentially be irrigated.
As part of MVID’s conversion from open ditches to a piped system and individual wells, the district created a water bank with the Department of Ecology and received new water rights permits. Those permits determine how much water the district and its members can use.
As a result, the district is working to make sure that the amount of land assessed by the district as irrigable matches the amount of water available to the district and its members under the new water rights permits.
“Water rights within an irrigation district are complicated,” said John Richardson, one of MVID’s three directors.
The process of trying to make sure that water rights and irrigable land assessed by the district match up is called “right sizing” by district officials.
It’s a necessary step, Richardson said, because it will reduce the risk of future legal challenges, ensure that members are only being billed for land they can actually irrigate, and maximize the amount of water available to all members.
“We’re working to make our estimate of irrigable acres a lot more accurate,” Richardson said.
In order to pin down just how many acres of land could potentially be irrigated, the district recently sent GIS analyses of individual properties to each of its 270 members. The analyses included an aerial image of the properties with an overlay indicating the acreage on each property that is considered irrigable, which means eliminating land covered by houses, driveways, roads, as well as steep slopes, river bottoms, and other areas not possible to irrigate.
The district’s goal, according to a letter to its members, is to bring the amount of irrigable acreage for each property in line with the number of acres assessed by the district.
MVID currently has 1,271 assessed acres within the district. Prior to sending the maps to members, the district estimated that about 1,071 acres could actually be irrigated.
On the advice of their attorney, MVID officials are working towards making the assessed and potentially irrigable acreage numbers match up. More importantly, they want to make sure the district’s irrigated acreage is within the 1,036.7 acres Ecology determined MVID can irrigate under the district’s new water rights permits.
While the initial estimates of 1,071 irrigable acres is more than the amount authorized by the district’s water rights, it’s less than the district has historically irrigated.
Richardson said the district irrigated an estimated 850 acres last year “and many members have told us that they are not planning to irrigate in the near future.”
The maps sent to members will serve to “ground truth” the district’s estimates of potentially irrigable property, Richardson said. Those estimates will almost certainly change after the maps are analyzed and corrected, he said.
“We want to make sure everyone’s maps are right,” Richardson told members. “If the district matches our assessed and irrigable acreage to the same number, we have a more understandable system and less legal risk moving forward.”
It became clear at the equalization meeting Tuesday that many of the GIS images, which were generated through information from Okanogan County, were not accurate. And numerous property owners had questions about land identified as irrigable.
Hans Smith said an area that had previously been an in-ground swimming pool but was filled with dirt and was now a garden was excluded in his map.
Mark Love asked whether a hillside that he has contemplated irrigating could be included in irrigable acreage. “Is it binding to the future, if we should want to sell the property?”
The directors asked property owners to work individually with Josh Morgan, MVID’s water master, to examine the maps and arrange site visits if necessary to address disagreements or concerns.
The directors continued the equalization meeting to Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. at either the Senior Center or the River Bank, depending on availability.
At their meeting Monday, directors also approved overall reductions in payments for members who were without water for periods of time as a result of construction of the new piped irrigation system and conversion to individual wells.
Many members, especially those on the lower end of the west side canal who are converting to individual wells, were without irrigation water while the wells were dug, pumps installed and electricity hooked up last spring and summer.
“We had three or four different well drillers and pump guys trying to do everything at once,” said Steve Dixon, an MVID director who was among the members converting to a well for irrigation.