By John Willett
Just a little history info to all about water availability here in the Methow: We are doing fine!
That is not to say that we should not protect the valuable resource that we have and use it wisely — we should.
Why, you ask? Here’s what I know: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the issue of water availability was a hot topic in the Methow, with Early Winters Resort looming and concerns multiplying about growth impacts on our beautiful little valley.
In the dim light of existing information the county, state, towns, U.S. Forest Service and concerned citizens came together and started tackling this water-availability issue. The first state water-planning project was born here and is still working today.
In the beginning and after months of political posturing, it became clear to me and a few others that the pilot project was lacking good scientific data. Luckily for me, one of my college roommates was the state Department of Ecology’s geo-hydrologist for eastern Washington. I started the scientific committee with the aid of Ecology and we started spending money to get the data that the main committee needed to make educated decisions about water availability here.
We did an experiment with a single-family property where we watered an acre for 24 hours straight, and by using everything in the house a lot for a day. It was concluded that the 5,000-gallons-a-day exempt rule for private wells was a super-safe engineer’s conclusion of doubling test results (less than the 2,000 gallons per day that we found) to make sure there would be no mistakes.
We also did seismic tests up and down the valley that were matched with drilling large wells, and the geological samples of the layers of earth coming out of those wells (the valley is a lake full of glacial rocks). We also pumped those wells in the middle of the summer at 2 cubic feet per second (or cfs, the drainage allocation set by Ecology in the valley, equal to a 6-inch water line pumping at 45 pounds of pressure) for days to check the drawdown of the aquifer and to the river that was close to them. Conclusion: 2 cfs withdrawal per drainage had no impact on either.
As some of you might remember, these scientific findings were not greeted with enthusiasm at the Ecology office in Yakima, and when the report made its way back to the committee it had been changed from what was written by their geo-hydrologist to doubling his findings (remember, we saw that the cfs rule was proven to be double the allotment already?). So, the Yakima office concluded if a lot/exempted well was using 10,000 gallons per day, then there was going to be a problem.
This changing of the scientific findings was exposed right away and also in an article by then Methow Valley News editor Ron Perrow. The director of Yakima Ecology Office resigned soon after. “Politics.”
Bottom line here — as long as we use the scientific data that we worked so hard to get and protect then, the Methow will have ample water for exempt wells, well into the future. We are lucky here in the Methow to have this data, so that the county and citizens can show the courts that we are protecting this treasured resource while we thoughtfully use it.
John Willett lives in Mazama and Kitsap.