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Washington Wild Coordinates 28 Conservation organizations to oppose dam construction in Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Posted on Feb 1, 2021 in Conservation News, WA Wild Blog

Washington Wild coordinated a letter undersigned by 28 conservation, recreation, and wildlife groups expressing concern for proposed dam plans at Eightmile Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

The Washington Department of Ecology and Icicle Peshastin Irrigation District (IPID) are considering plans to trundle heavy machinery through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and begin mining more water than ever before from Eightmile Lake.  

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is one of the most beloved and iconic expanses of un-roaded wildlands in Washington. Since 1976, the area has been designated as Wilderness to protect it from extractive industries.  Stretching along the spine of the North Cascades, the area includes portions of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests. Also within its bounds is one of the most sought after hiking permits for the  Enchantments. 

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness—including lakes within The Enchantment Basin—faces the threat of having its water “mined.” This means rebuilding the old and decaying existing dam at Eightmile, and extracting a greater volume of water than at any time since the dams were built, prior to a Wilderness designation.  

The aging dam at Eightmile Lake (built in 1929) is classified as high-hazard. In order to meet necessary safety standards, it must be rebuilt or be removed. The 28 undersigned organizations support the repair and maintenance of the dam, recognizing the importance of protecting public health and safety downstream, and ensuring the IPID can continue to provide irrigation water to its users in the Wenatchee Valley.

However, repairing the dam poses the challenge of getting heavy equipment to the lake, which must be done in compliance with the Wilderness Act of 1964. That means no mechanized travel within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and no road construction.

It is also critical that the Department of Ecology not pursue precedent-setting actions in the wilderness that would jeopardize the integrity of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Enlarging or expanding water reservoir capacity is an action that would require Presidential approval and set a dangerous precedent for wilderness management across the country.

Icicle Peshastin Irrigation District (IPID) was granted a water right to Eightmile Lake in 1929. They have never used the full amount that was granted. Washington water law indicates that a water right guaranteed on paper, but never fulfilled in practice, is relinquished. The Departement of Ecology must perform “Tentative Determination of the Eightmile Lake Storage Right” to formally determine if IPID has vacated their storage water right by not using their allotted amount in a 5-year period.

As the Department of Ecology moves forward with this project, we strongly urge the agency to carefully consider the recommendations and concerns in our scoping letter. Eightmile Lake and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness are natural treasures that must be carefully stewarded for the benefit of future generations.