By Lorah Super, Mary McCrea and Peter Morgan
As we write this article, we are enveloped in smoke produced by fires in our county, our state, and in Oregon and California. Climate change is no longer a prediction of things to come; it is a fact of life here and now. Not only does climate change increase the frequency and ferocity of wildfires, but it is also wreaking havoc with our water supply.
As John Crandall pointed out in his recent letter to the editor (Sept. 9), water “is a resource on which we all depend” and “[w]e are best served when stewardship of our water is something we work towards in common-in community.” To that end, we are writing to everyone who is part of our community, and especially to anyone who has recently purchased a house or raw land in the Methow Valley, or is thinking about doing so.
The Methow is a wonderful place to live, with an incredible community of people, and we hope you will love it as we do. It is also important to recognize the valley is actually a high desert. On average we have 15 inches of precipitation a year in Twisp, including water in the valley snowpack. Compare this to the average of 37.5 inches of precipitation a year in Seattle and 50 inches in Olympia.
The primary source of water for the rivers and streams in our valley is the high mountain snowpack. As our climate is changing, so too is the water supply from the mountains. It is decreasing, and runoff is coming earlier in the year, leaving the late-season water supply at new lows.
Speaking in generalities is well and good, but let’s look at some specifics in our valley. According to a long-time well driller in the valley, wells all along the east side of the Methow River are going dry. These wells are on south-facing slopes where less snow falls and melts off sooner. Let’s get even more specific. One well that is on the list to be deepened or replaced this fall was drilled in 1992 to a depth of 126 feet and produced a healthy 15 gallons per minute (GPM). This summer, that well produced 0.1 gpm or 6 gallons per hour. Because the well provides domestic water to full-time homeowners, deepening or replacing the well has been prioritized as an emergency and the work will hopefully be completed by Thanksgiving versus next spring. Drilling costs alone average $70-75 per foot, and the depth of the new well is expected to be 300-400 feet.
Before you buy
We are we writing this strong note of caution because much of the water in our valley is already spoken for through senior water rights, instream flows for fish, and existing exempt wells. You need to be careful. Before buying land or a house in the Methow Valley, please get the necessary information to make sure you have the water you will need and to ensure that your use will not impact the water supply/water rights of someone already living here.
Water and water rights can be difficult to understand. To find answers to your questions, pick up a copy of “Landowners Guide to Water Rights” and talk to someone who knows the water situation here in the Methow Valley. We suggest contacting one or more of the following: Methow Valley Citizens Council, 997-0888; Methow Watershed Council, www.methowwatershed.com/contact; Methow Conservancy, 996-2870; Trout Unlimited (509) 881-7690; or an attorney who knows water law and knows the Methow Valley.
Please don’t make the mistake of buying a house or land here only to find out you do not have the water rights or future water supply you thought you were buying. It would be a costly mistake for you and possibly for your neighbors.
Lorah Super is the program director for the Methow Valley Citizens Council; Mary McCrea is a retired water rights attorney; Peter Morgan is Methow Valley property owner.