Prompted by Methow Valley dispute
The Chewuch Canal Company and its Methow Valley supporters fought hard to turn back a proposed water transfer from the Chewuch River last year, and they don’t want to go through a similar process again.
Since the controversial proposal by a New York investment firm to buy water rights and transfer them out of the Methow watershed was withdrawn last September, local advocates have been lobbying for state legislation to prohibit future attempts.
A press release this week announced that HB 2866 was introduced on Monday (Jan. 27) by 12th District Rep. Keith Goehner and other legislators. According to the release, “The bill would prevent transfers of limited agricultural water resources out of certain headwater basins east of the Cascade Mountains and block water speculators.” The bill also lays out how allowable water transfers could occur.
Retired Methow Valley water attorney and Twisp resident Mary McCrea, spokesperson for the grass-roots effort that promoted the legislation, said in the press release that HB 2866 has been scheduled for a hearing before the House Rural Development, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on Friday (Jan. 31) at 10 a.m. in Olympia. McCrea said that “work is underway to get a group of locals with first-hand knowledge of the issue to Olympia to testify in person on Friday, while also engaging the broader community.”
McCrea said people can also offer comments on the bill at app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=2866&Year=2019&Initiative=False. District 12’s other legislators — Sen. Brad Hawkins and Rep. Mike Steele — also support the legislation, McCrea said.
McCrea added that people working on the issue are also closely watching other legislation which “may provide an opportunity to at least temporarily halt out-of-basin transfers should HB 2866 not advance out of committee.”
Through an agreement with Crown Columbia Water Resources LLC, of Spokane County, the Lundgren Family Limited Partnership — the Chewuch River rancher requesting the transfer to a water-banking company — had proposed a temporary donation of portions of a surface-water claim into a water bank Crown Columbia operates through the state’s Trust Water Rights Program. The water-transfer application was first submitted in December 2018.
The transaction was initiated by the water-rights owner, Don Lundgren, who operates a cattle ranch and guest house near the end of the East Chewuch Road. If the transaction had gone through, Crown would have held the rights in a water bank, and then found a lessee to use the water on adjacent properties or downstream.
The application received more than 80 comments from individuals and government agencies opposed to the transfer. Many worried that water rights used locally for irrigation would be transferred downstream and lost for use in the Methow Valley.
The Chewuch Canal Company said it was concerned that the proposed transfer would essentially wipe out all the water for its 183 shareholders. In addition to individual shareholders in the irrigation company, organizations including the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Methow Valley Irrigation District, and Pearrygin Lake State Park submitted objections to the transfer.
In September 2019, attorneys for the partnership withdrew the application, which was being considered by the Okanogan County Water Conservancy Board.
“It has been encouraging to see that this is an issue that unites people across the political spectrum,” McCrea said in this week’s press release. “Anyone who values local agriculture understands that once we lose our limited water downstream, there is virtually no way to get it back.”
Marcy Stamper contributed to this story.