Government agencies release Icicle Creek stream flow plan
by Tony Buhr
WENATCHEE —The Icicle Creek Workgroup took a final step Thursday toward starting projects to improve stream flows in Icicle Creek, including a project opposed by environmental groups.
That project — rebuilding the dam on Eightmile Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness — was included in a list of projects that cleared a final environmental assessment.
The assessment was released by the Chelan County Natural Resources Department and state Department of Ecology.
The assessment will allow the Icicle Creek Workgroup to start on projects to improve instream flows for fish habitat and public use.
The Icicle Creek Workgroup, though, has faced strong pushback from environmental groups in Washington. The draft environmental assessment received over 8,800 comments, many of which raised concerns.
Karl Forsgaard, a spokesman for the environmental groups, in December said the biggest concern those groups have with the Icicle Creek Strategy is the expansion of the human footprint in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
Wilderness areas are protected by the federal government and are supposed to remain “untrammeled by man,” according to the 1964 Wilderness Act.
The Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation Company manages several reservoirs in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Those reservoirs were built in the 1920’s before the Alpine Lakes Wilderness was created in 1976.
The environmental groups do not oppose the irrigation districts managing their reservoirs, Forsgaard said, but they do oppose new construction. In particular they are concerned that the Eightmile Lake repairs constitutes an expansion of an existing structure in the wilderness area.
“It is too significant of a precedent to allow to go forward without environmental groups taking some kind of action,” he said.
The Eightmile dam was damaged in 1991 by high floodwaters reducing the number of acre feet in the reservoir. The Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation District has been operating that reservoir at that reduced capacity since 1991. Forsgaard said the irrigation district has forfeited its water right for the water it is hasn’t used.
The irrigation district disputes this.
Environmental groups will sue if the height of the dam is increased or the lake enlarged, he said.
The Icicle Creek Workgroup was organized in 2012 to resolve several lawsuits around water levels in Icicle Creek, Natural Resource Director Mike Kaputa said. The goal of the workgroup is to increase instream flows in Icicle Creek by 100 cubic feet per second during non-drought years and 60 during drought years.
The group identified several strategies in a draft environmental assessment it released in May 2018. This final assessment identifies which alternative the group chose. All of the projects are expected to cost $82 million when completed and take 10 years to finish altogether.
The alternative the working group selected on Thursday includes:
- Rebuild Eightmile Lake reservoir to its 1991 water levels.
- Water conservation at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery.
- The Cascade Orchard Irrigation Company moving the mouth of its irrigation canal from Icicle Creek to the Wenatchee River.
- Adding electronic automatization to the reservoir gates, which would allow the irrigation companies to control flows remotely to keep Icicle Creek’s flows more consistent.
- Create a water market with 1,000 acre feet for agriculture use during water shortage.
- Improve fish passage, fish habitat, legislative changes and more.
This is just a step in the process, according to the news release.
Each of the projects identified in the environmental assessment will need to be studied individually and plans developed. More permits may also be required depending on which agencies are involved, such as the U.S. Forest Service.
It will be several years before work could begin on some of the larger projects, Kaputa said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story did not fully explain the conditions in which environmental groups would su