Eightmile Lake debate grows

The Wenatchee World reports on the growing debate

August 5, 2019

Organizations struggle over how to repair Eightmile Lake Dam
By Tony Buhr – Wenatchee World
World staff writer     Jul 22, 2019

LEAVENWORTH — Eightmile Lake Dam could fail under a 15-year flood event in its current condition.

The dam, located west of Leavenworth off Icicle Creek Road, is classified as being in poor condition and is capable of surviving a 10-year flood event when completely full, said Joe Witczak, state Department of Ecology dam and well manager.

About 40 downstream homes could be impacted if it were to fail. The dam safety office wants Eightmile Lake Dam to be repaired or removed and the Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation District, which owns the dam, would also like to repair it.

"It is 100 years old and it has some issues and it is undersized is the main concern," Witczak said. "We are working actively with (the irrigation district) now because they would like to rebuild that dam."

The irrigation district has been keeping the lake drawn down to prevent it from failing, he said.

In the summer of 2018 the irrigation district and Ecology performed some emergency repairs to the dam, but they were only a temporary fix, Witczak said.

The biggest problem is that the spillway is undersized, he said. It needs to allow more water to flow past the dam in the event of a big storm.

The irrigation district also wants to rebuild the dam with a lower siphon so it can draw 2,500 acre feet of water from the lake to provide 12 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water to Icicle Creek, as part of the Icicle Creek Workgroup's efforts to increase water in Icicle Creek, said Tony Jantzer, Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation District manager. The workgroup wants to add 100 cfs in non-drought years and 60 during drought years to improve fish habitat in the creek.

The irrigation district has an adjudicated right to use 2,500 acre feet of water in Eightmile Lake, but it only uses a fraction of that amount right now, Jantzer said.

Repairing the dam, though, isn't easy because Eightmile Lake Dam sits in the Alpine Lake Wilderness.

Wilderness areas are special zones within U.S. Forest Service land, which are supposed to be "untrammeled by man," and have no mechanization occur within their boundaries, according to the 1964 Wilderness Act.

The Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation District built the reservoirs that are in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the 1920s to 1930s, before the wilderness area was established by Congress in 1976.

In the 1990s, the irrigation district signed an easement agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, according to a special warranty deed. The easement grants the irrigation district the ability to maintain and repair its reservoirs within the wilderness area, but not without written permission from the Forest Service.

The irrigation district is in the process of getting a permit from the Forest Service to repair the dam, Jantzer said.

On Friday, Portland-based Regional Forester for the Pacific Northwest Region, Glenn Casamassa, came up to Leavenworth for a listening session about Eightmile Lake Dam. Representatives from Chelan County, environmental groups, the state and the irrigation district attended the meeting.

Environmental groups, such as The Wilderness Society and Alpine Lakes Protection Society, expressed concern during the meeting about how the irrigation district plans to repair the dam. The groups fully support the dam being repaired and want to protect the public.

But the organizations fear the district will expand its water use and footprint in the wilderness, said Karl Forsgaard, a spokesman for various environmental groups. Forsgaard noted the irrigation district's plan to put the outlet pipe about 23 feet lower than it is now.

"We've got a national wilderness system with hundreds of wilderness areas and many lakes that are in a similar situation (with) a small dam or pipe for agricultural purposes at the time it was created," he said. "How do you maintain that while also avoiding expansion or change?"

The irrigation district may have also relinquished its rights to any of the 2,500 acre feet of water it hasn't used, based on Washington water law, Forsgaard said.

Forsgaard has said in the past that his group will sue if the irrigation district tries to expand its footprint in the wilderness.

The irrigation district disagrees that it has relinquished its water rights, Jantzer said. An organization cannot lose its water rights, unless it attempts to transfer or sell them to someone else, he said.

The irrigation district isn't trying to transfer or sell its water rights, it’s maintaining its existing water right, Jantzer said.

"In other words you cannot come to the Icicle Irrigation District and say, 'Oh it doesn't look like you've diverted all your water for the last five years so we're going to relinquish you,'" he said.