Donate Now! Subscribe

WA Wild Coordinates Joint Letter to Defend Wilderness Character of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Posted on Jun 5, 2023 in Action Alerts, Conservation News, WA Wild Blog
Out of shared concern and respect for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and Enchantment basin, 28 organizations came together to provide comments on the Eightmile Dam Restoration and Replacement Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement proposed by the WA Department of Ecology. Currently, their three alternatives do not adequately protect the Wilderness character under the 1964 Wilderness Act, fail to ensure that additional water be used to benefit salmon and other fish downstream, and do not address impacts to recreational users. 

Photo: Eightmile Lake outside Leavenworth, Randy Goron (the Outbound)  


Eightmile Lake is one of four lakes within the boundary of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, managed by Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation Districts (IPID). Built nearly a century ago—long before Wilderness designation for this area was approved by Congress in 1976—this small, primitive dam, pipeline, and slide gate at the outlet of Eightmile Lake allow for controlled releases of stored water to supplement flows in Icicle Creek and provide irrigation during low flow periods, typically during late summer. Icicle Creek provides pristine habitat for fish and wildlife and is a critical source of water for local communities. The historic town of Leavenworth, as well as orchards in the Wenatchee Valley, depend on water from the creek for drinking water and irrigation.  

Photo: The imperiled Eightmile dam circa 2018, WA Dept. of Ecology


Left to fall into disrepair and damaged by the Jack Creek Fire in 2017, Eightmile Dam was officially designated a high hazard, and a state of emergency was issued for the watershed in 2018. Emergency repairs made in the summer of 2018 stabilized the dam, but these repairs do not meet current dam safety standards. After considering more than 17,600 public comments, the WA Department of Ecology (DOE) and IPID have proposed three different plans to restore and rebuild the dam to meet current safety standards. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), to examine the potential environmental consequences of each proposed plan was recently released. 

The Issue

Located between Stevens Pass and Snoqualmie Pass lies the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, which boasts a diversity of pristine fish and wildlife habitat as well as the famously rugged, glacier-carved peaks and sparkling alpine lakes of the Central Cascades. As one of the most visited Wilderness areas in the country, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness—and Enchantment Permit Zone contained within—are an alpine wonderland and bucket list destination for the thousands of backpackers who enter the permit lottery each year. 

Our organizations understand the need to repair and maintain the Eightmile Dam, recognizing the importance of taking action to protect public health and safety downstream. However, we are deeply concerned about the project’s environmental impacts. As proposed, these three alternatives do not adequately protect the Wilderness character under the 1964 Wilderness Act, fail to ensure that any additional water gained by the repair be used to benefit salmon and other fish downstream and do not address impacts to recreational users. 

Our Concerns and Proposed Considerations

The following concerns must be fully addressed and further mitigated in the final plan adopted by DOE and IPID:

• MAINTAINING WILDERNESS CHARACTER – the current dam is not conspicuous to recreationists, blending in with the surrounding Wilderness, and has a minimal footprint. More needs to be done in all three alternatives to protect the wilderness character. We appreciate there is no proposal to build a road into the designated Wilderness area, which would violate the 1964 Wilderness Act. The use of helicopters should be limited to dam construction and not extend to long-term maintenance within the Wilderness. Furthermore, the number of flights should be limited to as few as possible to mitigate impacts on wilderness character and recreation.

• RECREATION – Located within the Enchantment Permit Zone, this area offers unique recreational opportunities that over 45,000 day and overnight users visited in 2018. There should be advanced notice of any potential impacts on recreational access and the final plan should take measures to avoid construction during peak season.

• INSTREAM FLOW – We strongly support designating additional water from the repaired dam to be permanently reserved for instream flows to be used to maintain water levels for fish and ensure tribal treaty rights. However, there are no assurances or mechanisms provided in any of the draft plans to ensure this will occur; the final plan must clarify this important matter.

In summary—the proposed alternatives in the draft plans for the Eightmile Dam repair and replacement do not fully address all concerns. DOE and IPID must ensure the dam is repaired to protect public health and safety downstream while also fully protecting the wilderness, recreation, scenic, fish and wildlife habitat, and other natural resources of Eightmile Lake, Icicle Creek, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and Enchantment Permit Zone.