The popular Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington is being targeted by Chelan County for dam construction and water diversion projects for development, irrigation, and a fish hatchery. Dam construction and maintenance would harm the area’s wilderness character, and these proposed projects would set a bad precedent for our entire National Wilderness Preservation System. On May 31, Chelan County and the Washington State Department of Ecology announced the release of the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (DPEIS) for the “Icicle Creek Watershed Water Resources Management Strategy.” The DPEIS presents five action alternatives, the worst of which seek to enlarge and/or construct dams and related structures and manipulate water levels on seven lakes within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington.
The Colchuck, Eightmile, Upper and Lower Snow, Nada, Lower Klonaqua, and Square lakes, and the Eightmile, French, Icicle, Klonaqua, Leland, Mountaineer, Prospect, and Snow creeks could all be negatively impacted.
Alternative 5 in the DPEIS is best. It includes the “Full IPID Pump Station,” which would move Icicle Peshastin Irrigation District’s (IPID) point of diversion downstream to the Wenatchee River, and greatly improve flows in Icicle Creek without building bigger dams in the Wilderness, especially in future decades when climate change will reduce flows in the Icicle watershed.
However, the DEIS repeatedly ignores protections of the Wilderness Act as well as requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It incorrectly assumes IPID’s easements supersede the Wilderness Act, and it also fails to fully analyze limitations on the scope and validity of IPID’s water rights, which would limit several proposals. The DPEIS also ignores negative impacts to riparian ecosystems in the Wilderness from proposed off-season releases of water from lakes, which alters stream hydrology.
The DPEIS should be revised to address the above deficiencies, and then released for public comment.
• Read our joint comment letter on the DPEIS.
In 2016, Wilderness Watch and dozens of organizations joined with a local group—the Alpine Lakes Protection Society—in submitting a group comment letter to prevent this intrusion in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. In the scoping comments on the Icicle Creek Water Resource Management Strategy, we urged a wilderness protection alternative that would: “not increase the amount of water removed from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness; not expand easements; not encroach on wilderness lands; not use mechanical transport; and not build any structure or installation in the Wilderness.” We instead support finding new water sources and improving stream flows outside the Wilderness. We are also advocating for Chelan County to facilitate buy-back of private water rights so dams and other structures could be removed and the Wilderness restored.
Photo: U.S. Forest Service