State environmental review still required
The amount of water proposed for sale from a Winthrop ranch to a private investment company has been revised downward in a new application, which is expected to “be revised numerous more times,” according to the attorney preparing the documents.
“I have no timeline for completing the transfer. These things can take years,” said Marc Marquis, a Wenatchee attorney representing the Lundgren Family Ltd. Partnership, which owns the water right from the Chewuch River that is involved in the proposed sale.
The application submitted to the Okanogan County Water Conservancy Board, which considers water right changes and transfers, reduced the amount of water proposed for sale to Crown Columbia Resources LLC, a subsidiary of a New York-based real estate investment firm.
Crown Columbia would place the water into the state Trust Water Program for “in-stream flow benefit,” and the water right could be used for future sale or lease to other users downstream “from the existing point of diversion on the Chewuch River continuing on to the Pacific Ocean,” according to the application.
The initial proposal submitted last summer claimed that up to 33 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water that is diverted from the Chewuch River to irrigate a ranch owned by Don and Chris Lundgren would be available for sale. That amount was reduced to 13.12 cfs in a subsequent report, called a Record of Examination (ROE) that is intended to verify the amount of water legally available for transfer.
A third version of the ROE submitted to the Water Conservancy Board on March 6 further reduced the amount of the Lundgren water right proposed for sale to 7.538 cfs. The maximum acre-feet/year (afy) has remained at 440 afy in all three applications. The Lundgrens have entered into an agreement to sell the water right to Crown Columbia.
The proposed water sale must undergo a State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) analysis, which Marquis said he planned to initiate, although the ROE is expected to change. Rod Noel, a member of the Water Conservancy Board, said that as long as the amount of water proposed for sale remained the same or less, the SEPA process could go forward.
Canal company opposed
The Lundgren ranch takes irrigation water from the Chewuch River from a shared diversion with the Chewuch Canal Company (CCC). The CCC, which diverts up to 34 cfs of water from the river near Boulder Creek, has opposed the sale on the grounds that it could impair the irrigation company’s water right and leave its 180-plus shareholders without adequate water for irrigation.
Chris and Don Lundgren attended the Water Conservancy Board meeting last week, the first they’ve attended since the board began considering the application last June. Some of the canal company shareholders asked Don Lundgren if they could count on having adequate water to irrigate their property if the water right sale took place.
Richard Wasson has an apple orchard on the East Chewuch Road near Winthrop, one of the few commercial ventures that relies on water from the canal company. “Are we going to have enough water, Don, to water our orchard?” he asked. What concerns me is if you sell off your water right, is that flow going to continue, and can I grow my orchard?”
“Yes, you can,” Lundgren replied. “How many years has there not been enough water to fill everybody’s needs?”
Dave Ekblad said his property is 4 miles south of Winthrop, near the end of the 13-mile long irrigation canal. “What are the consequences down-canal? Will I have water?” Ekblad asked. “I have the ability to divide my land and sell it, and if my land has no irrigation, I’m screwed.”
Lundgren said he installed irrigation pivots on his property beginning in 1990 to “conserve water and be more efficient” and to leave more water in the river for salmon. Prior to installing pivots he used a combination of flood irrigation, handlines and fixed sprinklers, according to the ROE. At the meeting, Lundgren said he has continued to flood irrigate every spring to protect his water right.
“Over the years…we did flood irrigate for two weeks every year Just so we wouldn’t lose that extra water right that I know has to be used once every five years. Over those years clear up to this year … there’s always been sufficient water in the ditch … and everybody downstream has always had enough water during the time we did flood irrigate,” Lundgren said.
Roger Rowatt, president of the canal company, expressed surprise at Lundgren’s statement about flood irrigating. “As president of the ditch company I was unaware you were flood irrigating two weeks every year. How much water do you think you use when you flood irrigate?”
“A hell of a lot,” Lundgren replied.
Natalie Kuehler, an attorney representing the canal company, said that “opening the floodgates once a year for a week or two, even if that did happen, is not sufficient to establish beneficial use.” Water not put to beneficial use for five years is relinquished under state law and made available to the next person in line for a water right.
“This is all going to come out,” said board member Noel. “We’re basically dealing with paper water here. We’re selling paper water for money. That’s what he’s doing,” Noel said. “If, in my opinion, we take seven-and-a-half cfs away from what you have now, from what you’re using now, it will have an impact.”
The county Water Conservancy Board serves as an advisory group to the Washington Department of Ecology. There is no deadline for the board to act on the application. A final decision on any water right changes comes from Ecology.