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August Edition of Washington Water Watch is Out!

Teanaway River, tributary of the Yakima River, running very low - Photo from WA Dept of Ecology

Teanaway River, tributary of the Yakima River, running very low – Photo from WA Dept of Ecology

In this month’s newsletter, you’ll find an update on Washington’s drought, an article about the H2KNOW campaign currently going on in Spokane, a profile of Frank James, one of CELP’s board members, and more water news.

Check it out here.


New Participation Requirements by State’s Icicle Work Group Ends Collaboration, Prompts CELP to Resign

CELP resigned from the Washington State Department of Ecology -sponsored Icicle Work Group (IWG) on July 20th because of changes in its operating procedures that essentially eliminate the ability of CELP and other non-profits to meaningfully participate in this public process.

The new rules include changes to the decision making process  from consensus to majority rule, a prohibition on public disagreement, and a prohibition on members filing suit even if a another participant is breaking the law. These changes basically eliminate any dissenting opinions, and hamstring CELP and other participating groups from meaningfully impacting the water policy decisions made by the IWG.

Enchantment Zone Icicle ID Instream Flow Options Report (7-25-14) US Forest Service

US Forest Service Graphic

In 2012 the Department of Ecology and Chelan County asked CELP to join several state and federal agencies, two local irrigation districts, the City of Leavenworth and other non-profits in the “Icicle Work Group” (IWG), an advisory committee funded and convened by Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. Ecology stated that the purpose of the Icicle Work Group (IWG) was to solve instream flow problems in Icicle Creek while obtaining more water from the system for out-of-stream uses.  CELP has actively participated in IWG’s efforts ever since.

Last November, after repeatedly encouraging the IWG to better inform the public about one of the group’s more controversial options – building and automating irrigation dams and pipelines in the Enchantment Lakes region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness – CELP undertook a public outreach effort.  Legislators and conservation leaders statewide took notice.  To stop this effort, the Office of Columbia River made changes to the IWG operating procedures, and sent a letter informing participants they would need to agree to the new rules, or be removed from the workgroup.

Under these conditions, CELP could not continue to participate in a process that is inconsistent with our mission to protect Washington State’s rivers and aquifers by advocating for science-based, sustainable water management through public education and outreach, advocacy and public interest litigation.  CELP will however continue to pursue other efforts to protect Icicle Creek.

For more information about the IWG’s Alpine Lakes proposals, click here.


June Edition of Washington Water Watch is Out!

The lower Columbia River, below Bonneville Dam - Photo by John Roskelley

The lower Columbia River, below Bonneville Dam – Photo by John Roskelley

Our June edition of Washington Water Watch is now available. Check it out here!

This month, we profile our new board member, Brady Johnson, discuss our intervention into a law suit filed that challenges the Dungeness Instream Flow Rule, update our work on the Columbia River Treaty negotiations, highlight a petition to restore Moxlie Creek and more.


Check out our April edition of Washington Water Watch

Click here to read our newest installment of the Washington Water Watch newsletter.

This month, you’ll find articles introducing our new Staff Attorney, Dan Von Seggern, discussing the drought declaration in the state, the status of the Enloe Dam Hydro Project, a summary of the recently released”Freshwater Withdrawals in WA, 2010″ report, and more.

04172015 drought areas - dept of ecology


Drought Declared in Washington

Governor Inslee’s recent declaration of drought in 24 of Washington’s 62 watersheds has triggered a flurry of activity.   By law, drought is declared when a region’s water supply is at 75% of normal (or worse) and this water deficit will cause “hardship” to water uses and users.

04172015 drought areas - dept of ecology

Washington has experienced a fairly normal year for rain, but air temperatures over the winter were nearly 5 degrees F higher than normal, making the 2014-15 winter the warmest on record.  As a result, snow fall was scant.  Mountain snowpack is like a natural reservoir.  As accumulated snow melts over the summer, it percolates into groundwater and feeds the headwaters of streams.   Water will flow in streams during summer months, even with no rain, as a result of snowpack and groundwater reserves.  This year, snowpack is substantially less than normal for the Olympic, Cascade and Northern Rockies mountains, and as a consequence, we are facing a very dry summer season in Washington.

Western US Snowpack (4-1-15)

The biggest impact will be on fisheries.  Irrigated agriculture is also taking a hit, especially in the Yakima basin.  Municipal water supplies, especially for cities with big reservoirs (e.g., Tacoma, Seattle, Everett) appear to be in good shape.

In addition to physical aspects, drought has economic and political dimensions.  The Department of Ecology convenes a Water Supply Advisory Committee (WSAC) to make recommendations about

drought activities.  The WSAC has requested a $9 million appropriation to drill emergency wells, expedite water transfers, and provide loan and grant funding to farmers.

In an attempt to alleviate instream flow depletion, Ecology and others are conducting “reverse auctions” in the Yakima, Walla Walla and Dungeness basins.

Western US Summer Streamflow Forecast (4-1-15)

Essentially the state offers to lease water rights from farmers who are willing to forego irrigation this summer.  The goal is to keep water in upper tributaries that provide habitat for endangered salmon species.

Ecology is also seeking to lease or purchase existing water rights to offset use of emergency wells in the lower Yakima Valley.  These wells were drilled in 1977 but may not be used except in drought circumstances.  Since 1977, lawsuits and a US Geological Survey study have established that virtually all groundwater in the Yakima basin feeds into the lower Yakima River.  Thus, pumping from emergency wells without mitigation would impair existing users and instream flow water rights.   The bottom line is that water in the Yakima River basin is over-allocated, and in water-short years, junior water rights (called “pro-ratables”) take a big hit.  Ecology will not authorize use of emergency wells without mitigation.

This raises public policy questions.  Should it be the responsibility of Ecology to find “mitigation water” for junior users during a drought?   Should Washington taxpayers underwrite the purchase of water for junior users?

Of particular concern, when junior users convert from annual to perennial crops, dramatically increasing the financial risk associated with drought, who bears that risk?  The water users, or the public?

The Legislature has also convened a “Joint Legislative Committee on Drought” which is meeting regularly to discuss drought actions.   Their meetings can be viewed on TVW.

The drought declaration may be extended to cover even more watersheds, and a statewide declaration is even possible.   Large Puget Sound municipalities are comfortable with full reservoirs, and do not want a drought declaration that would lead their customers to conserve (and thereby reduce revenues).   But, smaller purveyors and stream flows around the state will be hurting given the snowpack scenario.

Drought declarations can lead to much mischief in the public policy arena.  CELP will report on drought activities throughout the spring and summer months to assess how well agencies and the Legislature respond in protecting public resources, i.e., public waters and public funds.

 


Uncertainty Remains About Water Availability for Proposed Hydro Project

Similkameen Falls2

Similkameen Falls in front of Enloe Dam

Olympia, WA – River advocacy groups will return to the courtroom on Friday, April 3, to challenge a decision that could reduce Similkameen Falls in Northeastern Washington to a trickle. The Falls, located on the Similkameen River just downstream of the abandoned Enloe Dam, are a popular scenic attraction and have important cultural and ecological values. Okanogan Public Utility District is currently seeking to re-energize Enloe Dam, although uncertainties surrounding the amount of water available for the project raise questions about its future costs and viability.

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy, American Whitewater and North Cascades Conservation Council are challenging a decision by the Washington Department of Ecology to issue a water right to the Okanogan PUD for the renewed operation of Enloe Dam. A Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) decision in 2013 allows Ecology and PUD to delay required aesthetics studies until after the project is completed, raising concerns that there is not enough water for both hydropower production and aesthetic flows.

“Ecology is required to determine whether granting a water right will harm the public interest before issuing it. Here, they are deferring that decision until after the project is built, something they cannot do when allocating public water resources” said Andrea Rodgers, an attorney representing the river groups.

Economic studies show that re-energizing Enloe Dam doesn’t make financial sense, and will cost local ratepayers even more money if aesthetic and minimum flows are required.

“Ultimately, the PUD doesn’t know how much water they will actually have to work with to generate power,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director for American Whitewater. “This puts a huge amount of ratepayer dollars at risk.”

Despite the economic uncertainty, the PUD has stated that it plans to move forward with re-energizing the dam, which has sparked backlash from ratepayers.

salmon jumping over Similkameen Falls

Salmon jumping over Similkameen Falls

“To avoid this monumental loss, OPUD has no choice but to pass the costs along to the ratepayers,” said Jere Gillespie of the Columbia River Bioregional Education Project. “If Enloe proceeds, costs to construct, maintain and operate, and later remove the dam, would place in debt the rate-paying families $180 million over 50 years.”

“The new water right for the dam fails to protect instream flows as required by the Similkameen River rule,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn.  “This directly contradicts a 2013 Supreme Court decision regarding the Skagit River, holding that these rules are ‘water rights for the river’ and may be violated only in the most narrow of circumstances.”

Oral argument will be held on April 3, 2015, 1:30 p.m. at Thurston County Superior Court, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Building 2, Olympia, Wash. The river groups are all members of the Hydropower Reform Coalition, and are represented by public interest attorneys Andrea Rodgers and Rachael Paschal Osborn.

Helpful Links and Documents:

PCHB Decision

Conservationists’ Petition for Review

Enloe Dam remains an Economic Loser

Contacts: 

Andrea Rodgers Harris, Attorney, 206.696-2851, rodgers@westernlaw.org

John Osborn (Center for Environmental Law & Policy) 509.939-1290, john@waterplanet.ws

Thomas O’Keefe (American Whitewater) 425.417-9012, okeefe@americanwhitewater.org

Rich Bowers (Hydropower Reform Coalition) 360.303-9625, Rich@hydroreform.org


Washington Water Watch – March 2015 Edition

Columbia River, Hanford Reach - no credit

Hanford Reach of Columbia River

Don’t miss our March edition of Washington Water Watch!

Click here to see the PDF version of our newsletter.

This month you’ll find articles about CELP’s recent victory in our Spokane River PCB challenge, the positive outcome of our Columbia River challenge, updates on other water issues and the Legislative session, an introduction to our new Development and Outreach Coordinator, and more.

If you aren’t already signed up to receive our monthly newsletter, sign up at the bottom of the page.


Columbia River flows to be protected

Dept of Ecology responds to lawsuit, re-issues Trios/Easterday water right with river flow protections

Seattle – Today conservationists announced they will not appeal a revised water right issued by Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) to Trios Health/Easterday Farms after Ecology amended the water right to protect Columbia River flows.   The earlier legal challenge of the water right focused on Ecology’s practice of issuing new water rights that deplete rivers by using “out-of-kind mitigation.”

“We are pleased that Ecology has abandoned ‘out-of-kind’ mitigation for this water right,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, senior policy analyst for the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP).  “Out-of-kind mitigation is illegal.  It threatens to de-water rivers statewide.”

The water right will irrigate 2000-3000 acres of land owned by Easterday Farms.  Kennewick General Hospital (now Trios Health) received title to the lands as a gift in 1980, but the lands lacked irrigation water.  Trios sold the land to Easterday Farms, contingent upon receiving a water right from the state.

In 2013, Ecology issued the water right, but without the instream flow protections routinely required for the Columbia River.  Rather than providing “bucket-for-bucket” mitigation to protect Columbia River flows, Ecology instead required a $6 million payment by Trios Health/Easterday to pay for habitat improvements in the Yakima and other watersheds.  The Okanogan Wilderness League and CELP appealed (see “background” section below), and the Pollution Control Hearings Board directed that the matter be sent to trial, requiring Ecology to prove that out-of-kind mitigation would actually offset the impacts to Columbia River flows.  Rather than going to trial, Ecology issued a new water right with instream flow and in-kind mitigation requirements.

“Rivers in Washington State, including the Columbia River, are already in trouble from too many water rights and withdrawals,” said Osborn.  “An honest appraisal of out-of-kind mitigation would show that habitat projects, whatever their merit, still fail to protect instream values, including fish, navigation, recreation, and scenic beauty.”

The new 2015 water right is conditioned on the Columbia River instream flow rule.  In addition, the $6 million to be paid by Easterday Farms will be used to purchase and retire existing water rights to directly offset impacts.

“It is not appropriate to exchange out-of-kind mitigation for water.  You can anchor a tree to the bottom of the river, but it won’t help if the river is dry,” added Osborn.  “If Ecology issues similar water rights in the future, CELP will have no choice to but to challenge.”

Background

The OWL/CELP 2013 appeal of the Kennewick Hospital/Trios/Easterday water right was based on the following issues:

– The water right would deplete flows in the impacted stretch of the Columbia River, violating the state’s own instream flow rule adopted to protect salmon migration.

– The mitigation projects generally would have had a short life-span, but the removal of water from the Columbia River would be perpetual and unending.

– The out-of-kind mitigation projects in the original water right would have been completed anyway, funded through federal and state programs to recover salmon.  This has turned out to be true – most of the one dozen habitat projects have been constructed.

– Washington water law does not authorize the state’s water agency to give away state waters in exchange for money or non-water mitigation.  There is growing public concern about financial mismanagement within the Department of Ecology, especially relating to the Office of the Columbia River that coordinated the Trios/Easterday water right.

CELP has worked to protect Columbia River flows for the past two decades.  In 2004 the National Academy of Sciences published its analysis on Columbia River flows, warning Washington State that water rights, water diversions for irrigated agriculture, flow adjustment for hydropower generation, and warming water temperatures from climate change threaten the survival of salmon and other fish and wildlife values.

Links to more background information:

The Unkindest Mitigation – how Ecology’s new water impairment ideas will hurt rivers and fish

CELP, Columbia River Vision, (Nov. 2000)

National Academies of Science, Managing the Columbia River:  Instream Flows, Water Withdrawals, and Salmon Survival