Cite slow movement on Chewuch water sale proposal
A group of Methow Valley residents traveled to Okanogan for the county Water Conservancy Board meeting last week, hoping to learn more about the status of the proposed Lundgren water sale.
They were disappointed, however, when the attorney working on the proposed sale declined to answer questions about a report he is preparing for the board, said Roger Rowatt, president of the Chewuch Canal Company.
The Chewuch Canal Company (CCC) has formally objected to the proposed sale of water from a ranch owned by the Lundgren Family Partnership to Crown Columbia Resources LLC, a subsidiary of a New York-based real estate investment firm. The Lundgrens have entered into an agreement to sell water rights to Crown Columbia.
The Lundgren ranch diverts irrigation water from the Chewuch River from a shared diversion with the Chewuch Canal Company. The CCC has said the sale could impair the irrigation company’s water right and leave its 180-plus shareholders without adequate water for irrigation.
The application for the sale will remain on the Water Conservancy Board’s agenda until the board takes action, but there is no deadline for the board to act. Some applications have remained on the agenda for several years, according to staff for the board.
Rowatt said he and about 20 other people attended the board meeting on Feb. 6, hoping to learn more about the status of a report, called a Record of Examination (ROE), that is being prepared as part of the application process. The ROE is intended to provide detailed information about how much water is legally available for purchase.
He said the strong interest in the application was due in part to an annual assessment recently sent by the Chewuch Canal Company to its shareholders. The legal costs associated with the canal company’s objections to the Crown Columbia application were reflected in that assessment, Rowatt said.
“We run on a very tight budget and this has increased the assessments noticeably. The bigger farmers are hurt the most because they are the bigger shareholders,” Rowatt said.
In addition to shareholders, representatives of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington State Parks, and Douglas County PUD attended the meeting.
The report is being drafted by Marc Marquis, a Wenatchee attorney representing the Lundgrens. He presented a draft ROE to the board at its last meeting, held in December. Rowatt said people in attendance wanted to ask questions about the application, but Marquis declined to answer.
“The February meeting notice that was forwarded to me indicated that Marc Marquis would be at the meeting to give an update on the Crown Columbia application and answer any questions. Myself, the CCC shareholders and the three agencies [WDFW, State Parks and Douglas County PUD] were all very disappointed with Marc Marquis’ unwillingness to answer any questions on the Crown Columbia application,” Rowatt said in an email sent to the board the day after the meeting.
“If this is the way the [water conservancy board] meetings are going to play out going forward, I think the board should pass this application on to Ecology. It seems like yesterday’s meeting was a classic example of how this process is wasting a lot of the CCC shareholders’ time and money,” Rowatt said.
Because open applications remain on the board’s meeting agenda indefinitely, interested parties don’t know when an application might come up for discussion, Rowatt said. “If this remains open for five years, it means I need to attend every meeting for five years,” he said.
Ecology has final say
The county board serves in an advisory capacity to the state Department of Ecology, which makes final decisions on all water right applications. The canal company’s attorney, Natalie Kuehler, suggested at the December meeting that the county board should send the application directly to Ecology, due to complex legal and policy issues raised by the application.
The application for the proposed water sale was filed last summer. Crown Columbia, which describes itself as a private water banking operation, proposes to purchase and transfer up to 255.2 acre-feet per year of water into the state Trust Water Program, which would hold the water right for potential future sale or lease to downstream users, according to Crown Columbia’s application.
The water could be used, for example, to irrigate a dryland farm. It would be available for use anywhere from the point of diversion on the Chewuch River to the mouth of the Columbia River, according to the application.
The application has generated more public interest than any application previously considered by the county Water Conservancy Board, according to staff. Among other issues, objections filed with the board have questioned Crown Columbia’s calculations about the amount of water available for transfer, and the use of the Trust Water Program to hold water rights for future lease downstream. Conservancy board members said during their December meeting that the draft ROE submitted by Marquis is not complete.