Agreement addresses town’s water shortage
By Ann McCreary
Moving another step closer to resolving its longstanding water shortage problem, the town of Twisp has signed a contract with the state Department of Ecology to finance the purchase of water from the Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID).
Twisp Council members have approved a contract that provides $276,000 from Ecology’s Office of Columbia River to purchase 138 acre-feet of water from MVID. The water purchase will increase the amount of municipal water available to homes and businesses in Twisp.
Under the contract, Ecology will make payment for the water to MVID, and Twisp will repay Ecology about $11,000 per year over the next 25 years.
The water sale between MVID and Twisp was arranged last year and will address a shortage of municipal water that has plagued Twisp since 1997, when a state Supreme Court decision found the town had lost a historical right to divert 610 acre-feet per year from the Twisp River.
The court ruling limited the town’s legal water use to 224 acre-feet per year, and for almost two decades the restriction has stymied the town’s ability to ensure that water would be available for residential and commercial development.
One piece of the process in completing the water sale is not yet in place — the issuance of new water permits from Ecology to reflect the changes in use by the town and MVID, said Dan Haller, a water consultant for Twisp.
Ecology is expected to issue three permits soon, Haller said this week. One will be for Twisp’s withdrawal of water from its municipal wells; another will be for MVID’s withdrawal of water from the Methow River to serve its new east side piped system; and the third will be to MVID to withdraw water from new wells behind Hank’s Harvest Foods to serve the district’s west side pressurized pipe system.
Twisp has been leasing up to 400 acre-feet of water annually under a contract with MVID since 2001 to provide water for seasonal irrigation during high water use periods. However, that did not address the town’s need for a supply of year-round water to serve anticipated population growth and development.
Haller said the new permit to be issued to Twisp by Ecology will total 248.8 acre-feet, which includes the 138 acre-feet to be purchased by Twisp, plus water that is returned to the Methow River.
“The town will get credit in this permit for water returned to the river, such as measured outflow from the town’s wastewater treatment plant,” Haller said.
The transfer of water from MVID to Twisp was done through a water bank created by MVID as part of its $10 million “Instream Flow Improvement Project,” which reduces the amount of water diverted from the Twisp and Methow rivers and has been under construction since last year.
A second water right of 262 acre-feet, part of the total amount previously leased by Twisp, was placed in the water bank by MVID and was designated to provide irrigation through the MVID system to undeveloped property belonging to MVID members in town boundaries.
Those properties lie primarily in two areas of town — the Painters Addition neighborhood on the bench above the Methow Valley Community Center, and property within town boundaries on the east side of the Methow River. Some of those properties have been under development since the water purchase agreement was signed last year.
The town paid $10,000 per year to lease water from MVID, $1,000 less than it will pay to Ecology to finance the water purchase.
After the court ruling in 1997, Twisp frequently exceeded its legal water use limit of 224 acre-feet per year. In efforts to comply, the town instituted a moratorium on drilling new wells in town that is still in place, and a temporary moratorium on new water hookups from 2006-2008.
Through a variety of conservation measures, repairs and upgrades to the town water system, Twisp has managed in recent years to reduce its water consumption and stay within the 224 acre-feet limitation allowed by the state.
However, town officials have been concerned for years that the town would be unable to meet its legal obligation to provide water to new development without obtaining additional water rights.
The purchase and sale agreement signed last year with MVID was described by Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody as a “healthy sign for the town” and its ability to support and encourage future growth and development.
An appeal filed last year by Okanogan Wilderness League, a local environmental organization, challenged changes to water rights approved by Ecology in connection with MVID and Twisp water use, but that appeal was withdrawn earlier this year.