Work Group presses ahead on Eightmile dam

January 17, 2020

The Icicle work group and Icicle-Peshastin Irrigation District are advancing three initiatives to rebuild or replace Eightmile Lake dam, even as legal issues about it remain.

First, the irrigation district is discussing design of the dam with the state Department of Ecology (DOE). DOE's Dam Safety Office became involved with Eightmile Lake in early 2018 when high waters threatened to breach the old structure. Emergency repairs and a new monitoring system eased that concern, but the irrigation district still hopes to rebuild or replace the dam. This is consistent with the programmatic environmental review completed on the so-called Icicle Strategy a year ago.

Second, the Icicle work group's steering committee has earmarked $1 million to conduct a state environmental review on the Eightmile Lake dam. This month its representative expects to send out requests for proposals from third-party environmental consultants to draft the environmental impact statement required under state law. It is a common practice for government agencies to hire consultants for this type of work. It is not clear if this EIS would only address the question of dam design or the broader issue of whether to build it.

Third, the work group has retained third-party "facilitators" to assist in gaining public support for the Icicle Strategy. Initially, these facilitators were apparently hired to cool down a dispute within the work group itself. That dispute flared up when two member organizations, Icicle Creek Watershed Council and Trout Unlimited, complained about the January 2019 decision on the programmatic environmental review.

It is now clear these facilitators are launching a broader charm offensive. To that end, they have invited a number of environmental groups to an informal Seattle meeting with the stated purpose of creating "a pathway . . .  for continued dialogue" over the Icicle.

State appropriations for DOE's Office of the Columbia River are funding both the state environmental review for the dam and these facilitators. The Office of Columbia River has spent several million dollars to support and advance the Icicle Strategy, and soon plans to seek more appropriations for this effort.

The biggest unknown in the current developments is whether the US Forest Service will approve the irrigation district's plan to rebuild or replace the Eightmile Lake dam. Months ago the Forest Service raised with the irrigation district a number of concerns it had about this proposal because it is within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. 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 current status of any discussions between the Forest Service and irrigation district is unknown.