Reducing Washington State Drought Impacts in the Okanogan River Basin

In both the northern reaches, high desert region, and even the Olympic Peninsula—literally one of the wettest places in the lower 48 states historically—summer 2019 is a serious drought year in Washington State. Earlier this spring, the governor declared a drought emergency, which was able to unlock emergency relief options and funding for 27 watersheds across the entire state. In the Methow, Okanogan, and upper Yakima River watersheds, it’s particularly bad. Based on current forecasting, the Okanogan is expected to be at 58 percent of normal, and curtailment notification letters have already been sent to local water users. However, this drastic forecast has prompted forward thinking. 

In partnership with the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), the Oroville-Tonasket Irrigation District (OTID) has developed a “water bank” in the Okanogan River basin to help regional water users impacted by the drought. The water bank will be used to support instream flows and to assist “junior” water users during periods of curtailment. OTID is seeding the bank with two of its senior water rights. In 2018, Ecology, with assistance from Aspect, certified these water rights through the state’s Certified Water Right Examiner process. 

Ecology is working to complete the required permitting to place the water rights in the state’s Trust Water Right Program (TWRP) to create the water bank (read more about water banks on Ecology’s website). This water bank will be seeded with about 7,500 acre feet of water, which will be made available for drought relief. From this bank, eligible water users can “withdraw” water for both irrigation and municipal or domestic uses.

 More information can be found at the following website:

https://www.aspectconsulting.com/otidwaterbank

Waiting for Water - the Columbia Basin Project

Aspect works routinely with clients suffering from declining groundwater supplies. From conservation and planning projects to aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) projects, Aspect is at the forefront of this issue. ASR projects in Othello and White Salmon are underway now that will assist in long-term certainty for public water supplies in the future. In agriculture, we are partnering with Washington State University to forecast how declining water supplies will affect commercial crop reliability and assessing the conservation, storage, and water marketing tools that exist both locally and regionally to assist them. One of the largest declining groundwater areas in the state is in the Columbia Basin.

This video “Waiting for Water – The Columbia Basin Project” produced by the Columbia Basin Development League is a great introduction into the complexities of these issues for farmers in Washington. Aspect staff assisted in the permitting and environmental review for this project.

Taylor Dayton Talks Science and Engineering Careers on May 9 in Wenatchee

On May 9, Water Resource Engineer Taylor Dayton is giving a presentation to the Society and Natural Resources students at Wenatchee Valley College. The lecture will explore technical career paths in earth and water resources, with a deep dive on Taylor’s early career experience as a water resources engineer and showcasing a variety of local water resources and water rights projects she has worked on over the last four years in Aspect’s Wenatchee office.

Aspect Talks Reclaimed Water, ASR, and Walla Walla Basin at 2019 AWWA

2019_conference_logo.jpg

Andrew Austreng, Jon Turk, and John Warinner will be presenting Thursday and Friday May 2 and 3rd at the American Water Works Association (AWWA) ‘River Runs Through It’ 2019 Section Conference in Vancouver, WA. Andrew will present on the Othello, WA Aquifer Storage and Recovery project; Jon Turn will showcase groundwater recharge strategies for a unique project involving reclaimed water in Kitsap County; and John Warinner will discuss challenges and opportunities of managing groundwater across two state lines in the Walla Walla subbasin.

The annual AWWA conference is one of the largest conferences for water professionals in the Pacific Northwest.

New GIS Tool Helps Remove Barriers to Salmon Habitat Connectivity

Clean, cold water. Lush riparian vegetation. Gravels for spawning. These are some of the elements that create healthy habitat for salmon. The Upper Columbia region has some of the best in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, not all of this habitat is within the salmon’s reach. Removing barriers such as culverts and dams is a top priority for salmon recovery goals, but there are thousands of barriers, limited resources to remove them, and a diverse group of stakeholders with issues to address. What everyone wants to know first is: how do we decide WHICH barriers to remove?

Instream barriers such as culverts like this can limit fish passage to available habitat.

Enter a New Tool for Fish Habitat Decision Making

In partnership with the Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board, the Upper Columbia Regional Technical Team (RTT), and a technical steering committee, Aspect created a GIS-based decision support tool that summarizes the overall quality of ecological conditions surrounding each instream barrier within the Wenatchee Basin. This custom spatial model provides insight into critical questions regarding barrier-removal priority:

  • Is there habitat available upstream from the barrier that salmon currently cannot access?

  • Is that available habitat of sufficient quality for salmon?

  • Is there known fish usage near the barrier already?

  • Are there barriers downstream blocking fish access?

This prioritization tool provides salmon-recovery stakeholders with a common approach to answer these questions. The variables under consideration at a barrier—upstream habitat quality, local stream temperature, connectivity to other barriers, etc.—each receive a score. Those scores are then added up to a total priority tier ranking for that barrier. By assessing each barrier through this scoring process, we’ve created an actionable apples-to-apples comparison of habitat benefits associated with barrier removal.

A preview of barrier removal ranking priority data.

A preview of barrier removal ranking priority data.

A Tier 1 ranking indicates the top priority for removal, indicating more biological benefit gained from a barrier’s removal. Tier 4 ranking is the lowest priority ranking, indicating little biological benefit gained from a barrier’s removal. UCSRB and the RTT use these categories to guide decisions on proposed project funding. The rankings are updated as available data sources improve.  Preview the results HERE. This tool will allow stakeholders to align and coordinate their barrier removal work towards the larger common goal of salmon-habitat connectivity within the Upper Columbia and throughout the state.

If interested in adapting this tool for your project and/or basin(s), contact Robyn Pepin for more information.

ETA (6/3/2019): Robyn Pepin and Taylor Rulien’s poster for this GIS tool won best analytical data presentation at 2019’s WAURISA Conference. Check it out here.

Removing Barriers to Fish Passage at Icicle Creek

Like many of Washington’s waterways, Icicle Creek in Chelan County is the site of several projects with the goal of helping salmon and other fish make their way upstream to spawn. Many of the projects involve constructing structures, like a habitat-friendly culvert or a fish ladder, to balance fish passage with the many other needs and uses for the river. But a project sponsored by Trout Unlimited is focused on removing barriers—in this case, large boulders in the creek that stand in the fish’s way. Once the boulders are removed, fish will have access to another 26 miles of habitat.

This project is one of a suite of projects the recently released Icicle Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) recommends in the Preferred Alternative to implement the Icicle Strategy, an $82 million dollar effort to ensure a sustainable water supply and water resources for people, farms, and fish in the Wenatchee Basin through 2050. Aspect has been the technical and facilitation lead on this project since 2012. Our work includes serving the Icicle Work Group—a group of approximately 30 stakeholders from local, state, and federal governments, Tribes, irrigation districts, farmers, and non-profit groups that created the Icicle Strategy; developing the PEIS; and leading technical evaluation of proposed projects across the basin that may improve water resource management and increase instream flow during critical flow periods.

Senior Geotechnical Engineer Nick Szot, PE, and Senior Engineering Geologist Mark Swank, LEG, are supporting Trout Unlimited’s goals for the Icicle Creek project by developing alternatives for fish passage and relocation of a 16-inch-diameter watermain that brings water to the City of Leavenworth. They have also provided considerations for protecting creek bank slope stability during construction, which is expected to start in summer 2020.  Learn more about the project in this recent article in the Wenatchee World.

Talking Field Data Collection at 2019 OCEAN Connect Conference on April 11

Over the past decade or two, technological advancements have presented opportunities to streamline field data collection. However, migrating field staff to a paperless workflow requires more than choosing the right software and hardware.

On April 11, Aspect’s John Warinner and Robyn Pepin will cover this topic and give tips on how to effectively convert field data collection from paper to digital process at the 2018 Oregon Conservation Education and Assistance Network (OCEAN) Connect Conference in Sunriver, Oregon.

Key areas of the presentation will include:

  • Overview of commercial off-the-shelf software and reporting systems

  • Case studies and lessons learned by Aspect’s field and data teams

  • Successful talking points to convince decision makers

See good field techniques and analysis put into practice, with some mountain biking thrown in for good measure here:

It's IPAD Mini vs. Trimble GPS in a mapmaking showdown on the sunny trails of the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust in the Wenatchee Valley.

And read more about our experience with how one suite of field data technology has improved our workflow.


Taylor Dayton Presenting on Water Rights as Mortgage Assets to NAPMW - April 12

Taylor Dayton, Water Resources Engineer

Taylor Dayton, Water Resources Engineer

Aspect Water Resources Engineer Taylor Dayton, EIT, will present at the National Association of Professional Mortgage Women (NAPMW) LPO Seminar in Lake Chelan on Friday, April 12, 2019. The presentation will explore water rights as assets in the mortgage industry - how water rights are created, moved, lost, and valued. Taylor will also speak to the recent Hirst decision and “fix” and how it affects eastern Washington water rights and development.

The State’s Longest-Running Water Rights Adjudication is Coming to an End

In 1977, James J. Acquavella’s name was listed first on the summons when Ecology filed a petition for an adjudication to determine the legality of all claims for surface water in the Yakima River Basin – birthing the Ecology v. James Acquvella, et al water rights case. Forty-two years and 2,500 claimants and interested parties later, it is coming to a close. Some takeaways for this milestone moment in Washington state water management are:

  • Starting in 1977, the Department of Ecology v. Acquavella adjudication is the longest-running general adjudication in state history, determining the validity and establishing priority of surface water claims in the Yakima Basin.

  • With the issuance of the Final Decree by Yakima County Superior Court, water right holders in the Yakima Basin will finally have certainty over the authorized quantities and purposes and places of use of their water right claims.

  • Adjudicated water right certificates will be issued by Ecology for all claims determined by the Court to be valid; water right holders will no longer need to get approval of the Court to complete a change or transfer a water right, but instead file applications with Ecology like everywhere else in the State.

  • During the adjudication, stakeholders in the Yakima Basin continued to lead the state in providing innovative approaches to water resource management challenges, including early adoption of water banking and mitigation markets to ease permitting of new water rights, and development and implementation of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

Aspect has worked on a variety of Aquavella claims over the decades – including hundreds of due diligence water right evaluations; helping buyers/sellers move and change these rights; and developing water banks through the State’s Trust Water Right Program to support efficient transfer of existing rights and permitting of new, mitigated water rights.

Read the fascinating tale of water management in the Yakima River Basin and the implications of this ruling in this great Department of Ecology blog post.

See what else Aspect’s Water Resources practice has been up to.

Recognizing World Water Day

Water is a scarce resource for many worldwide. The United Nations has designated today, March 22nd, as World Water Day to raise awareness of the billions of people—about 3 in 10—living without safe water. As earth science professionals, this message strikes a chord with Aspect staff who spend many of our work hours towards helping clients find, produce, and manage water. Supporting NGO goals – like the UN’s “water for all by 2030” – is important to us. Whether it’s organizations like UN or Engineers Without Borders USA, please join us in learning more about these worthy causes.

https://www.worldwaterday.org/

world water day.gif

The $82 Million Icicle Creek Subbasin Watershed Plan Hits a Milestone

This Seattle Times article provides an in-depth look at the complex mix of aging alpine dams, world-renowned wilderness area, and the potential of changing climate patterns in the Icicle Creek Subbasin. The spotlight’s on this North Central Washington region as the 6+ year Icicle Creek Subbasin strategy hit a recent milestone with the release of the project’s Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.

Since 2012, Aspect has been the facilitation and technical lead for this effort, serving a broad working group of city and county agencies, tribes, fisheries, irrigators, and the community. The overall program is designed to improve instream flows, assist in agricultural sustainability, and provide for local domestic growth beyond the year 2050 at an investment of $82 million over the next 10 years.

Dan Haller Presents to the Water Mitigation Task Force

Aspect is routinely involved in helping inform State policy makers on implications of existing and proposed legislation. Our staff track and comment on existing legislation, help our clients propose new legislation, and interact with State agencies as they propose and shape new water policy. Aspect’s Dan Haller was asked in the summer of 2018 to provide a presentation on mitigation projects and mitigation sequencing to the Washington State Joint Legislative “Water Mitigation Task Force”. This Task Force is charged with evaluating how the law could be changed to adopt mitigation standards for water projects where water-for-water cannot be supplied for a project in-time and in-place. Often the “in-time” component of mitigation is the most challenging element as supply and demand are hard to match perfectly.

Dan speaks about several mitigation projects Aspect staff have worked on in recent years, including:

  • Town of Twisp / Methow Valley Irrigation District, which paired an irrigation project rehabilitation with water banking to offset growth in the Town for the next 20 years.

  • Lake Roosevelt Drawdown, which re-operates Grand Coulee Dam by 1 foot making that supply available for agricultural reliability, instream flow, and municipal use.

  • Kittitas County Consumptive Use Pilot, which seeks to clarify the exact nature and magnitude of indoor domestic use.

  • Chelan County Alluvial Storage Pilot, which seeks to engineer natural storage log jams to retime water from spring to summer.

Check out the video of Dan’s presentation below.

Meet Bill Grimm and Isabellah von Trapp

Staff Scientist Bill Grimm and Staff Scientist Isabellah von Trapp recently joined Aspect -- Bill in our Bainbridge office and Isabellah in our Seattle office. Here are five questions we asked to get to know them better.

Bill Grimm.jpg

Bill Grimm, Staff Scientist

  1. Where are you from? If you’re not from the Pacific Northwest, what brought you here? 
    I’m from the suburbs of Chicago originally. I came to Seattle a little over a year after graduating from college to do a master’s program in applied geosciences at the University of Washington. My master’s program was a great fit for me, because it combined two of my passions: earth science, and giving back to the communities in which I live. Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest in general, are incredibly interesting geologically, and the program presented a great opportunity to study real earth science-related issues happening in our own backyards.
     
  2. What inspired you to pursue geology? What made you curious about it?
    I really fell in love with geology when I was on a family vacation to the Grand Canyon when I was about 10 years old. I had always loved maps and cross sections since I was a kid, and seeing the Grand Canyon in real life made me absolutely fascinated with the Earth and its natural processes.
     
  3. What do you like best about your area of expertise? What excites you and keeps you motivated? 
    My favorite part of geology is that it’s like a big puzzle. You start with what you know, and you try to fit the pieces together to make the problem make sense. Along the way, you discover new pieces of the puzzle that fit in to the whole, and the more you discover (generally), the clearer the bigger picture becomes.
     
  4. What do you like to do when you aren’t working? 
    I like to hang out with my wife, hike, play guitar, ski, and read. I’m also planning to start brewing my own beer sometime soon.
     
  5. Where in the world would you like to travel next? 
    I would love to do a trek from northern India through Nepal to the Mt. Everest base camp. I love knowing where I am in the world geologically and geographically and being able to picture myself on a map, and I think it would be awesome to walk from the flats in India across the plate boundary and all the way to the base of the highest mountain above sea level.

Isabellah von Trapp, Staff Scientist

Isabellah enjoying Death Valley geology.

Isabellah enjoying Death Valley geology.

  1. Where are you from? If you’re not from the Pacific Northwest, what brought you here? 
    I grew up in Salem, Oregon but I always knew I wanted to live in the Puget Sound-area. I attended college in Tacoma at PLU then set out for grad school in Missoula, Montana. But, after a couple years of cold-ish winters, I was ready to head back to my beloved, rainy PNW where I could easily access the mountains, ocean, and my family within a short arm’s reach. 
     
  2. What inspired you to pursue water resources? What made you curious about it?
    For most of my growing up years, I strongly believed I wanted to be a dentist…but after about 1 semester in college, I quickly realized that was not the life for me. After floundering around in some general education classes the following semester, I decided to take an introductory-level geoscience class and my mind was blown.

    Soon thereafter, I declared myself as a geoscience major. I took a wide array of geology classes but out of all of them, I loved hydrogeology and geochemistry the most.  After that, it only seemed natural to seek out a master’s thesis project where I could combine both of those things! Fortunately, I’ve been able to pursue a career that allows me to use those skills and develop new ones. 
     
  3. What do you like best about your area of expertise? What excites you and keeps you motivated? 
    Everybody needs water. Working in water resources is not only interesting but it allows me to solve real world problems that affect a lot of people. Any job that allows you to simultaneously do science and help people is a cool one in my book. 
     
  4. What do you like to do when you aren’t working? 
    Most of the time, I’m daydreaming about what I’m going to eat next. So, in my free time I enjoy perusing every item at Trader Joe’s, cooking, and baking. Aside from that – I  also love to camp, hike, swim, knit, try out new beers, and travel just about anywhere! 
     
  5. Where in the world would you like to travel next? 
    Iceland, Ireland, and Israel – apparently I have a thing for countries starting with the letter I. 

Next Step in Icicle Creek Basin Solution – June 27 Public Hearing in Leavenworth

Taking the next step in a process that began in 2012, Chelan County and the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology)  have released the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the Icicle Creek Water Resource Management Strategy (Icicle Strategy). The Draft PEIS will be summarized and discussed at a public hearing on Wednesday, June 27 from 4pm to 8pm at Leavenworth Festhalle, 1001 Front Street, Leavenworth, WA. The PEIS evaluates five alternatives to help the Icicle Work Group (IWG) map out a solution for instream flow, tribal, agricultural, domestic, and recreational water needs for the Icicle Creek Subbasin in central Washington.

See Chelan County’s Icicle Strategy website for more information. Aspect has helped coordinate the development of the PEIS, along with multiple teaming partners and co-leads Chelan County and Ecology.

Water Banking in the West

Water banking is increasingly being looked at as an innovative approach to storing and releasing water in water-challenged areas of the West. In May’s issue of The Water Report, Aspect’s Dan Haller wrote an in-depth look at water banking in Washington state, how it compares to the rest of the West, and what recent legislative changes mean for the successful adoption of this water supply tool. Click below to read the article. 

Strengthening our Water Resources Services with Jon Turk and James Bush

Aspect strengthens its water resources practice with the addition of Associate Hydrogeologist Jon Turk, LHG and Project Hydrogeologist James Bush, LHG. Jon is a hydrogeologist with over 16 years of experience focused on quantitative hydrogeology for water, wastewater, and industrial markets for public agencies and private industry. He will work out of Olympia, supporting Aspect’s Seattle office as well as expanding Aspect’s capabilities for clients in the south Puget Sound area. James brings over seven years of hydrogeologic and numerical modeling experience for groundwater projects.

Jon Turk

Jon Turk

James Bush

James Bush

“Jon’s background and expertise are a seamless match with Aspect’s water resources client base,” says Tim Flynn, Aspect’s President. “We’re also excited to continue to introduce Aspect to all the south Puget Sound and western Washington clients that Jon has built strong relationships with.”

While at his previous firm, Brown and Caldwell, Jon led an integrated water resources management team providing regional leadership and national consulting for complex and integrated surface water and groundwater systems. He brings recognized skill in groundwater recharge, water supply management, wastewater reuse, and numerical modeling for clean water projects as well as site remediation support for Brownfields and Superfund projects. James also comes from Brown and Caldwell, where he was a primary technical contributor to groundwater projects, environmental site characterization, and numerical modeling projects throughout Washington, Oregon, and the western United States.

“I’m excited to join the Aspect team and proud to join such a talented group of consultants,” says Jon.  “I’ve always considered Aspect as one of the premier hydrogeologic consultancies in the region, with a strong brand that truly values both innovative and practical approaches to solving complex water resource challenges.”

Aspect Talks Water at AWWA Conference

Tim Flynn and Dan Haller will both be presenting Friday April 27th at the AWWA ‘Just Add Water’ 2018 Section Conference in Tacoma. Friday morning, Tim’s presentation will focus on the City of Othello’s unique approach to source development by securing new supplies using irrigation canals, reclaimed water and ASR.

Aspect’s Andrew Austreng will be moderating the afternoon Water Resources technical session during which Dan Haller will be presenting an overview of water rights and water banking in WA.

Aspect’s Dan Haller Sharing His Water Rights Strategies and Discussing the New Exempt Well Legislation at the Central Washington Agriculture Seminar

On April 6th, Aspect’s Dan Haller will be speaking on three water right topics: how to stretch your existing rights to cover new irrigated lands (spreading), the new legislation on rural exempt wells (ESSB 6091), and relinquishment protection strategies

Join Dan and other distinguished speakers for the FREE Central Washington Agriculture Seminar.

What the Hirst “Fix” Signals for WA's Rural Water Users and Managers

Last month, after months of delay that even stopped Washington state’s capital budget from passing, the Washington State House and Senate passed ESSB 6091 to address legal water availability issues for exempt well users stemming from the landmark Whatcom County v. Hirst case. Because of the complexity of implementing the new law, it is too soon to know all of the consequences of this proposed fix. However, here are several early takeaways:

capitol-421196_1920.jpg

What it means

  • In many, but not all, areas of the state, the new law allows building permits relying on exempt wells in areas with instream flows to be approved by local jurisdictions without reviewing each case for impairment considerations.
  • Overall impairment to instream flows caused collectively by new exempt wells is to be addressed through restarting the watershed planning process in Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs) with no adopted Watershed Plan, or through an update of existing adopted Watershed Plans.  
  • Plan recommendations to improve streamflows may include, among other options, acquiring senior water rights, water conservation, water reuse, off-channel storage, and aquifer recharge. 
  • Several watersheds were specifically excluded from the law based on other regulatory considerations, including:
    • Watersheds with instream flow rules that explicitly regulate exempt wells and provide for reserves, such as the Stillaguamish, Methow, and Wenatchee basins. These watersheds must rely on the finite reserves of water already allocated.
    • Federally regulated watersheds (Yakima basin).

How we got here

Under existing state law (RCW 90.44.050), the groundwater permit exemption allows, for a limited number of purposes, water users to construct and develop groundwater wells for small quantities of groundwater without obtaining a permit. In October of 2016, in a landmark decision on the use of exempt wells and county responsibility for evaluating impacts from the wells on instream flows, the Washington Supreme Court (Court) ruled in the Whatcom County v. Hirst case that the Growth Management Act (GMA) placed an independent responsibility to ensure water availability on counties, not on Ecology. Counties across the state had varying responses to the decision, with some placing a moratorium on granting building permits relying on unmitigated exempt wells, others including disclaimers on proof of legal water availability, and others taking a wait and see approach.

New $500 fee and new Exempt Well Use Limitations

The new Bill 6091 requires a new $500 fee to be paid as part of obtaining a building permit relying on an exempt well, to support watershed planning efforts.  In basins with adopted Watershed Plans, the law allows an exempt well to use a maximum average of 3,000 gallons per day, while in basins with no watershed plan, a limitation of 950 gallons per day is imposed.

Understanding of Bill 6091 Still Evolving

The Washington Department of Ecology is responsible for implementing ESSB 6091, and is still formulating relevant policy. As general understanding and consensus evolves, Aspect will continue to comment on this for clients.

The following link provides the Washington Department of Ecology’s Initial Policy Interpretations on ESSB 6091:https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/wrx/wrx/fsvr/ecylcyfsvrxfile/WaterRights/wrwebpdf/6091-EcologyPolicyInterpretations.pdf

The following link provides the Hirst Supreme Court Decision:https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/wrx/wrx/fsvr/ecylcyfsvrxfile/WaterRights/wrwebpdf/91475-3opinion.pdf