Icicle group announces decision

January 7, 2019

Lead agencies for the Icicle Work Group have picked Alternative 1 under their programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS).

On January 3 Chelan County and the state Department of Ecology, acting on behalf of the Work Group, issued a final decision on the PEIS, thus opening a new phase in the on-going dispute over wilderness lakes in the Icicle.

The long-awaited draft PEIS, released at the end of May, drew strong criticism in the public comment period that followed. Since then the work group has been mulling a final decision for the past five months. Prepared under the State Environmental Policy Act, the PEIS is a programmatic review of the various strategies and options developed by the group. Now that it has chosen one of the six alternatives proposed in the PEIS, individual environmental reviews may be required before proceeding with specific projects, such as a dam on Eightmile Lake.

By picking Alternative 1, the work group retreated from some of its more controversial proposals, such as bigger dams on Upper and Lower Snow Lakes, and a tunnel to drain Upper Klonaqua into Lower Klonaqua Lake. But Alternative 1 is still likely to draw fire over several plans.

One calls for installing remote-control devices at dams on several wilderness lakes, raising questions about whether they would allow the Icicle Irrigation District effectively to expand its water rights by withdrawing more water.

Eightmile Lake plans may be even more controversial. The final decision says these envision rebuilding the Eightmile Lake dam "to restore usable storage to the historical and permitted high water storage elevation." Conservationists have claimed that "historical" and "permitted" are not the same thing, because some permitted water rights have been forfeited through historical non-use.

Karl Forsgaard, past president of Alpine Lakes Protection Society, warned the Seattle Times that allowing Eightmile Lake to be enlarged would be "unprecedented action" in the national wilderness system.

The final PEIS is available at https://www.co.chelan.wa.us/natural-resources/pages/environmental-review.