EPA report: Dams play large role in raising water temperatures

Study issued Tuesday looks at causes of warming water on Snake and Columbia rivers


The Environmental Protection Agency issued a report Tuesday detailing summertime water temperature problems on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers and assigning significant responsibility to federal dams.

The report said dams on both rivers play a role in raising water temperatures above 68 degrees — the state water quality standards of Washington and Oregon, and the point at which the water becomes harmful to salmon and steelhead. The causes of the increasing water temperatures are known as Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL.

But federal authors also noted the Snake River often exceeds temperature standards before it enters Washington from Idaho, as does the Columbia River when it enters the state from Canada.

The report, that is being released for public comment, is likely to play a role in the long-simmering debate over the role dams play in the decline of threatened and endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead. In addition to being a source of mortality to juvenile fish during their migration to the Pacific Ocean, the dams can also harm returning adults. By slowing the flow and increasing the surface area exposed to the sun, the dams cause the Snake River to increase as much as 5.7 degrees, according to the report.

Temperatures higher than 68 degrees can cause adult fish to stall during their return from the ocean and in some cases, such as 2015 when the rivers warmed into the 70s and stayed there for weeks, it can lead to significant mortality. That year, much of the Columbia and Snake river sockeye runs were wiped out by hot water.

Other sources of heating identified by the report include water entering from tributaries; regulated discharges, known as point sources, from things like factories or municipal wastewater treatment plants; and from increased air temperatures attributed to climate change.

But the dams play an outsized role.

“EPA’s analysis of the cumulative nonpoint source heat loading from dam impoundments shows that the dam impoundments have a greater temperature impact than point sources and tributaries,” according to the report.

Environmental groups hailed the report Tuesday as a needed step toward lowering temperatures and improving conditions for salmon and steelhead. Following the 2015 heat event that hammered sockeye, a coalition of groups including Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper and Idaho Rivers United went to court to force the EPA to finish writing the report that had been stalled for nearly two decades.

“We are pleased that it’s done and identifies the hot water problems on the Columbia and Snake rivers,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper.

The document is not prescriptive and it will largely be up to the states to determine how water quality problems identified in the report should be addressed. VandenHeuvel said breaching the four lower Snake River dams would help meet water quality standards as well as boost salmon and steelhead.

“The water temperatures in the Snake are so hot in the summer that I think dam removal is the best way to restore salmon and provide water cool enough for their survival,” he said.

That type of prescription or calls for more water to be spilled at dams troubles Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest River Partners. Given that the Snake and Columbia rivers are often overheated when they enter Washington, he would like regulators in Oregon and Washington to reexamine their water quality standards.

“The states may have established water quality standards that are unattainable even if the lower Snake and mid-Columbia river dams were not in place,” he said. “It would be unfair to penalize the communities that rely on hydropower for river temperatures way beyond their control.”

The report will be available for public review and comment at www.epa.gov/columbiariver through July 21.

Oregon Department of Agriculture Considers Permitting New Mega-Dairy, Easterday Farms, While Small Dairy Farmers Dump Milk

Emma Newton, enewton@fwwatch.org, (971)266-4557

Supply chain chaos caused by COVID-19 is making milk oversupply problems even worse, yet Oregon officials consider permitting new mega-dairy.

Salem, OR – Stand Up To Factory Farms, a broad coalition of environmental, food safety, family farming, and animal welfare organizations fighting to protect Oregon from mega-dairies, calls on Governor Brown and the Oregon Department of Agriculture to protect small dairy farmers during the COVID-19 outbreak and enact a mega-dairy moratorium on new and expanding dairies.

In response, the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition issued the following statement:

“Today we call on Governor Brown to take swift action to protect Oregon’s small dairy farmers from the impact of COVID-19 by enacting a mega-dairy moratorium. Oregon’s small dairy farmers have struggled enough under mounting pressure from Oregon’s mega-dairies to get big or get out. Mega-dairies have been flooding the market with milk for years, contributing to Oregon losing more than a third of its licensed dairies since 1997 with an average of nine family dairy farms going out of business each month between 2002 and 2007.

Corporate consolidation of dairy processing and a shift towards mega-dairies and away from family farms have weakened our food system and resulted in an oversupply of milk. Small farmers, already struggling, are forced to dump milk while supply chain disruptions throw the market into further chaos, leaving farmers with no market while people lack food access. This is the worst possible time to add to the pressure on small farms by greenlighting more mega-dairies. We need to ensure that Oregon’s small dairy farmers are not further endangered by rebuilding our dairy market in a way that works for small farmers and is strong enough to withstand pressure from future crises. Oregon deserves a food system that prioritizes small farmers, produces healthy food for consumers, and protects our environment. Mega-dairies won’t get us there.

Yet Governor Brown and her Oregon Department of Agriculture are signaling that they will permit a new mega-dairy during this crisis. Easterday Farms would confine nearly 30,000 cows on the site of the disastrous Lost Valley Farm. Failing to learn from the Lost Valley debacle was bad enough. But allowing another mega-dairy in the midst of a crisis of low milk prices coupled with a crisis of supply chain disruptions from COVID-19 would simply be reckless. Governor Brown needs to prioritize protecting Oregon’s small dairy farmers now more than ever and immediately enact a moratorium on mega-dairies.”

Source: https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2020/05/13/oregon-department-agriculture-considers-permitting-new-mega-dairy-easterday

Radioactive waste in Oregon


Radioactive waste in Oregon

Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer. He shares his opinion frequently in the Keizertimes.

Radon gas has become a concern since its presence in quantity was first detected and that’s because it can—and often does—result in cancers, sometimes fatal.

Radon’s origin is the decay of radioactive elements found in soil and rock. Radon gas presents itself in human areas through the air we breathe as well as underground and surface water. Radon gas naturally occurs throughout the world and has been commonly found in Oregon, including where we live, here in the mid-Willamette Valley.

Additionally, we now learn that Oilfield Waste Logistic of Culbertson, Mont., has delivered to Arlington, Oregon, illegally dumped disposal of radioactive fracking waste at a chemical landfill there. And to date, with possibly more on the way, they’ve been unloading their toxic brew by misrepresenting it to the depths of 2 million pounds of radioactive waste. The documentation submitted reads that such material cannot legally be disposed of in Oregon, say officials with the nuclear safety division at the Oregon Department of Energy.

However, according to reports on the violation, the landfill operator in Gilliam County, Chemical Waste Management, is not facing any consequences by penalty of fine or otherwise. The 2 million pounds of radioactive material from Bakken oil fields in Canada’s Manitoba and Saskatchewan provinces as well as Montana and North Dakota, includes highly contaminated filters, tank sludge and slurry from drilling pipes transported to Oregon aboard unmarked railcars over the last three years with the “door open” apparently for more to come without the imposition of consequences or immediate removal of what’s already been delivered.

The Chemical Waste people report that Oilfield Waste Logistics did not truthfully describe the waste shipped to Oregon along with the disturbing fact that Chemical Waste also did not send samples to an independent technical expert for analysis prior to accepting it. Chemical Waste says they’ll work with the Oregon Department of Energy which sounds like a-day-late-and-a-dollar-short scenario as wimpy and irresponsible as anyone could dream up and expect publicly acceptable.

Meanwhile, no one is being punished or forced by law or contractual obligation to correct what’s been done and those persons, apparently, who are twiddling their thumbs and generally ignoring this abomination, including Gov. Kate Brown and our legislators who are busy again fighting over carcinogenic emissions by a cap and trade law by which the Republican, once again, are threatening to walk out of the capitol and hide away like a collection of over-stimulated kindergarteners protecting their no-controls, benefactor-provided “candy” supply.

So this collection of toxins from the devil’s kitchen sits and rots, spewing its cancer-causing agents into Oregon’s air and ground/surface water throughout the state, including the Columbia River. Then, also, there’s the exposure to anyone living nearby, tourists, commercial transports on I-84, general commerce, the dams and recreation.

This huge dump of toxins and carcinogens is an example of the result of the removal of regulations by the current federal administration. Regulations for safeguarding the public are going away. Business and industry are free to pollute and expose to health and life-threatening conditions, the lives of our children, our workers and the general citizenry. An opportunity to end the recklessness now underway rests with the American people in early November, 2020.

Source: https://www.keizertimes.com/posts/1238/radioactive-waste-in-oregon

Court orders EPA to write temperature control plans for Columbia, Snake

A federal appeals court has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finalize a long-overdue plan to lower water temperatures for endangered fish in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely to intensify the ongoing debate over breaching four Lower Snake River dams in Eastern Washington to increase salmon and steelhead runs.

Environmental and commercial fishing groups sued the EPA in 2017 to protect Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead from dangerously high river temperatures. Water exceeding 68 degrees is considered particularly lethal for the fish, causing them to struggle migrating upstream and leaving them susceptible to disease.

The plaintiffs — including Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, the Institute for Fisheries Resources and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations — highlighted the summer of 2015, when an estimated 250,000 Snake River sockeye salmon died before they could spawn.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said the slack water reservoirs behind hydroelectric dams on the rivers are a major culprit when it comes to heating water.

“The reservoirs have created this hot water problem, and climate change is pushing it over the edge,” VandenHeuvel said. “We need solutions quickly, and they need to be big solutions.”

Under the Clean Water Act, states are required to identify and issue pollution controls for imperiled waterways. The standards — known as “Total Maximum Daily Load,” or abbreviated TMDL — can address high levels of specific pollutants, such as nitrogen, or conditions such as water temperature or turbidity.

Oregon and Washington reported in the mid-1990s that numerous segments of the Columbia and Snake rivers failed to meet temperature standards. In 2000, the states entered into an agreement with the EPA to produce a temperature plan for the rivers.

The agency published a draft TMDL in 2003. However, it was never finalized and no progress has been made by either the states or EPA since then.

A Seattle district judge ruled in 2018 that the EPA is required by law to issue the plan. The appeals court upheld that decision on Dec. 20, giving the agency 30 days.

“Because Washington and Oregon have conclusively refused to develop and issue a temperature TMDL for the Columbia and Snake Rivers, the EPA is obligated to act,” Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown wrote in her opinion for the appeals court. “The time has come — the EPA must do so now.”

A spokeswoman for the EPA said she the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.

The ruling also notes that water temperatures are projected to rise with increased human activity on the rivers, and that 65% of remaining salmon and steelhead populations face a high risk of extinction.

VandenHeuvel said the groups are looking for a “comprehensive, science-based plan that looks at all of the options,” including possible dam removal.

“There should be a serious analysis of removal of Snake River dams, due to their impact on hot water and salmon,” he said.

Nic Nelson, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, said hot water in the Lower Snake and Columbia rivers has been a year-in, year-out problem for endangered salmon.

“This victory will create more protections for endangered species that are an indelible part of our Northwest way of life, culture, economy and heritage,” Nelson said.

Coincidentally, the court’s water temperature ruling came out on the same day as a $750,000 study from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s office weighing the pros and cons of breaching Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the lower Snake River.

The dams not only generate electricity, but provide irrigation water and allow farmers to ship their crops via barges, as opposed to congested highways or railroads. Agriculture and industry groups have argued the cost and disruption to businesses and local communities from breaching dams would be significant.

A spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, which represents ports, businesses and economic interests on the river, said the group is aware of the court ruling, but did not have further comment.

Source: https://www.capitalpress.com/ag_sectors/water/court-orders-epa-to-write-temperature-control-plans-for-columbia/article_546fbc56-2810-11ea-ab49-f7acc454b367.html

EDITORIAL: San Joaquin Valley’s water solution? Look north to the mighty Columbia River ????

The Fresno Bee

Central Valley agriculture faces a looming existential water crisis from the interlocking problems of drought, climate change, and falling underground water tables. Yet the potential answer to this problem is incredibly simple and only a lack of political will may defeat it. The solution is to send south to California the abundant waters of the Columbia River.

New ground water rules to take effect in the coming decades are forecast to force the abandoning of thousands of acres of prime farm land. Potential drought and global warming mean less snow and more early, wasteful runoff. These spell doom for many farms.

This problem is not only important for us economically in the Central Valley, but for the United States and the world. Our Valley is the most productive food producing area in the United States and some would say the world. As the global population increases, the Malthusian risk of population growth exceeding food supply is always there.

This crisis potentially can be solved by a reference to fiction writer Edgar Allen Poe. In his short story, the “Gold Bug,” Poe notes that the best way to hide something is to make it huge and obvious, like lettering on a map.

So it is with the water crisis! The answer is right in front of us: the giant Columbia River flowing between Washington and Oregon.

The Columbia has over 10 times the flow of the Colorado River, which serves 30 million people. That means the vast Columbia could serve 300 million people or almost the total population of the United States. A priori, one could postulate bringing its water to Lake Shasta, either over land or through the Pacific Ocean, and then following existing infrastructure south.

Politicians have seen this possibility of sending the water from the Columbia south, and with parochial limited vision have succeeded in blocking any research of it. In the late 1960s Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a U.S. senator from Washington state, sponsored and succeeded in having passed legislation barring any study of the feasibility of building a canal from the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington to parched California. This legislation effectively stopped any further study.

Cost is, of course, a question, but the lack of any studies of this project make any estimate impossible. Interestingly, China has been implementing a program to transfer water from the south Yangtze Basin to the parched north, a distance of over 1,000 miles.

It is not possible to directly transpose Chinese costs and experience to those of the U.S. But this shows the vitality of China, which has emerged as a major competitor to America on the world stage.

Unlike totalitarian China, political feasibility with a deadlocked Washington, D.C., is the looming problem with the Columbia project. The likelihood of bitter opposition is obvious, perhaps to the extent that it has not been considered at all.

Americans have historically shown altruism as with relief from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. But, sadly, altruism might not be the answer here. Instead, California as the world’s fifth leading economy (if a separate entity) could send money to those two states to substantially ease their financial burden.

In an article in The Oregonian published Aug. 10, 2010, Michael Milstein suggested that Oregon should use this resource to aid its beleaguered budget by sale of the water. And he also cautioned that if they didn’t move water to California, then folks would move from there to Oregon, a mortal threat to most Oregonians.

The issue is clearly: can the United States rise to a level of civic responsibility that transcends local politics? China, a Communist dictatorship, is moving to solve a similar problem, but doing so heedless of its human or environmental cost. Surely we can at least study this possibility! The future food supply of California, the nation and the world is at stake.

Wall Street spends millions to buy up Washington state water

WINTHROP, Okanogan County — Follow the water and you’ll find the money.

That’s how it often works in the dusty rural corners of Washington, where a Wall Street-backed firm is staking an ambitious venture on the state’s water.

Crown Columbia Water Resources since 2017 has targeted the water rights of farms on tributaries of the mighty Columbia River.

This March, the company sealed a $340,000 deal for Douglas County water.

The same day, it paid $1.69 million for a farming partnership’s water in Columbia County.

Two months later, the company spent nearly $1.61 million near Walla Walla.

Worldwide, as temperatures rise and aquifers dry, investors are increasingly bullish on water, and buying vineyards, farms and ranches for what’s underneath or flowing through.

In Washington state, there’s little water left unclaimed, according to the state Ecology Department. In the future, scientists expect less snowpack, more variable precipitation and more frequent summer water shortages.

Amid a changing climate, a population boom in Washington and churning development, Peterson’s client plans to buy, lease and sell water in a privately operated water market of its own creation. Crown’s activities here are unprecedented in scope for a private firm.

The company’s aggressive pursuit of water could put it in the vanguard.

Or it could all evaporate.

Ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Canada over the Columbia River could shift flows, potentially draining demand.

Crown has faced regulatory scrutiny from the state Ecology Department. And in emails, some officials privately expressed concern over Wall Street influence on water markets.

Some critics fear business models like Crown’s could lead to speculation or consolidation.

“We’re potentially allowing a marketplace to develop here that could be pretty destructive in the future,” said Paul Jewell, a policy director for the Washington State Association of Counties. “With a growing population and growing need for water, we’re going to be beholden to private interests with a profit motive for something that’s supposed to be a public resource.”

Meanwhile, the company’s attempt to buy water from a local family farm partnership in the Methow Valley riled nearby residents, ranchers and farmers, who were concerned that selling the water downstream would permanently end its use in their community and that their lifestyles might dry up.

“If you start selling your water off, you’re going to lose agriculture and that is losing your character, I believe,” said Craig Boesel, a Winthrop cattle rancher whose family homesteaded the land in 1889.

Wall Street and water

Peterson hails from Wenatchee, where the town’s namesake river meets the Columbia

After leaving for college in Seattle and law school in Portland, Peterson returned to Wenatchee as a small-town attorney who took on “pretty much anything that walked into the door.”

The market led him to water law. He soon began to view Washington’s arcane system as inefficient and wasteful.

“Washington state is way behind” among Western states, Peterson said.

For years, he’s eyed the 1,200-mile Columbia River, the irrigation superhighway of Central Washington, as an opportunity.

The valleys alongside the Columbia grow each year a cornucopia of high-value crops: apples, wine grapes, cherries and hops among them. When irrigated, Washington cropland is among the most valuable in the country, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Crown Columbia’s parent company, the Spokane-based Crown West Realty, acquired two commercial farms in 2014 and 2016 for more than $46 million, hiring Peterson to consult on water.

Petrus Partners, a Manhattan-based investment firm, controls Crown West Realty. The company’s founders have reported at least $298 million in investment offerings under the Petrus name, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The company’s website says about half of its capital comes from “retired partners of Goldman, Sachs & Co.” and that its real estate arm was founded to “capitalize on distressed investment opportunities following the collapse of the housing bubble.”

In Petrus and Crown, Peterson saw opportunity: The companies had money, management experience and enough distance to take a 10,000-foot view.

“They invest in anything that will turn a profit,” he said.

And Peterson saw fields of profit along the Columbia.

“Most of the ground in Eastern Washington is cultivated, but a lot of it is dry farms. If you irrigate the ground, you can get six, seven times the yield for the land,” he said. “People are clamoring for water along the main-stem Columbia.”

Farms on the fringe

An arcane system that dates back to the late 1800s governs Washington’s water.

In the earliest days, “you make a claim by sticking a piece of paper on a tree or in a public place that says you have the right to withdraw a certain amount of water,” said Jonathan Yoder, director of the State of Washington Water Research Center and professor of economics at Washington State University.

Fast-forward more than a century: Water rights, now managed by the Department of Ecology, are measured down to the molecule, Peterson joked.

In Washington, water is a public resource that can’t be owned. But the right to use water is exclusive and treated like a property right.

“New water rights are hard to come by. How else are you going to get water? You’re going to buy it.” — Jonathan Yoder, director of the State of Washington Water Research Center

The state keeps a sprawling online database of water permits, claims and certificates, including some that rely on photocopies of century-old paperwork. Water rights left unused for five years can be lost, or relinquished, for others to use.

During drought, the agency can restrict the use of some water rights to aid fish. Older water rights receive priority.

No longer are hammers, nails and paper sufficient to acquire water. Now, a coterie of pricey lawyers, consultants and engineers make a living on the process.

Where there’s a constraint, a market could develop, Yoder said.

“New water rights are hard to come by,” Yoder said. “How else are you going to get water? You’re going to buy it.”

Water rights transactions are notoriously hard to track. The state does not keep centralized data on water sales, said Harry Seely, of the consulting firm WestWater Research. Sales are often tied to land or farm assets. Water rights sales are subject to real-estate excise tax, but they aren’t always recorded and categorized in the same way. Market research often relies on word of mouth.

Where there is scarcity in Washington, Seely said water rights sales can fetch between $500 to $6,500 per yearly acre-foot, which is roughly equivalent to half the volume of an Olympic-size swimming pool. Crown spent $3,000 per yearly acre-foot for most of its water in Columbia County, according to a seller.

In other Western states like Colorado, where shortages are more acute, prices have stretched higher, fetching as much as $60,000 at auction for less than an acre-foot of water each year, according to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

In Washington, small water banks have operated locally for years, often redistributing large water rights to new uses nearby.

Peterson’s vision for Crown Columbia is bigger. It would allow water to be distributed across much of the state, which he thinks would be more economically efficient.

Agriculture has changed in the century since lawmakers began regulating water. Modern irrigation systems are more efficient, can send water farther and pump it uphill.

Farms have consolidated. The largest 4.4% of Washington farms, which are 2,000 acres and larger, operate about 74% of the state’s farmland, according to a Seattle Times analysis of 2017 Census of Agriculture statistics. Those farms also own an increasing percentage of the state’s irrigated land.

“In the tributaries, the farms are small. It’s hard for them to be economically viable at scale,” Peterson said.

These farms do have valuable water rights, which could be worth more downstream. Crown wants to buy and lease the rights of farms on the fringe, leave their water in stream and let gravity deliver it to the Columbia, where it could quench the thirst of vineyards, orchards or be used for ecological purposes.

“We’ll sell to anybody,” Peterson said.

Peterson’s concept hinges on rights held in the state’s Trust Water Rights Program, which allows users to park inactive water rights with the state to avoid losing them.

The program is designed, in part, so the Ecology Department can use parked rights to keep more water in streams, which helps fish struggling with waters too low or too hot.

For Crown, the program serves as a “vault” to protect its holdings, Peterson said. Crown eventually plans to operate a clearinghouse for water — buying, leasing and selling it. But before new water uses can begin, the parked water must be validated and approved by the Ecology Department.

Over the past two years, Peterson and Crown purchased at least $4.7 million worth of water rights across several rural counties, according to real estate tax records, placing some in temporary trust for terms of 20 years. Crown has reached agreements to market other entities’ water, too, Peterson said.

The company controls about 7,000 acre-feet it could lease or sell, Peterson said. This summer, it made its first loan of 600 acre-feet of water, to a Walla Walla-area farmer, he said. Each acre-foot was priced at $200 for one year.

But not every transaction has gone so smoothly.

A fight in the Methow

In the Methow Valley, water nurtures the land and the colorful personalities who depend on it.

So when retired lawyer Mary McCrea, of Twisp, last June discovered fine print in the Methow Valley News’ legal section that spoke to a local ranching family’s plans to sell water away from the valley, it left her gobsmacked.

She had worried for years that outsiders would come for the valley’s water.

Crown’s draft application, published online, sought to transfer the ranching family’s water right to trust and allow for future water use from the Chewuch River, near Winthrop, to the mouth of the Columbia River, more than 500 miles downstream.

The Lundgren Limited Family Partnership’s claim dates back to 1907, according to the legal notice.

A 1910 agreement with the Chewuch Canal Co. allows the Lundgren partnership to transport water using the company’s canal, which snakes across the landscape for more than 13 miles and delivers water to about 185 shareholders with farms, ranches and homes in the Winthrop area.

The draft application sought to place in trust the right to as much as 97 percent of the canal’s flow at any one point in time.

After the local paper, the Methow Valley News, published stories about the potential deal, “it was the talk of the town, at least in my circles,” said canal shareholder Betsy Smith, of Winthrop.

Those circles have changed for Smith, who is a veterinarian and the matriarch of a sheep-ranching family.

The construction of Highway 20 in the late 1970s, which spills past granite spires in the North Cascade mountain range, now connects the valley with Washington’s urbanized west side. A migration of money and burst of second-home construction amid the Methow’s dry Ponderosa pines followed, changing the complexion of the bucolic valley.

The Methow has become a hub for climbers and skiers. In summer, tourists swarm the streets of Winthrop, carrying ice cream cones between the saloons and general stores fashioned as an homage to the American West.

“The economy now isn’t necessarily based on agriculture,” said Casey Smith, 27, son and scion of BCS Livestock, the sheep-ranching operation. “It’s based on recreation and tourism. But it’s beautiful here because it’s a green landscape.”

Still, many livelihoods depend on irrigation.

An early May visit found those who work the land in the throes of “frantic springtime,” as Roger Rowatt, the president of the canal company, called the beginning of the irrigation season.

Days before, Rowatt, a miller, farmer and cabinetmaker who sports a white ponytail and an arrowhead goatee that points to his chin, kicked off the frenzy when he opened a sluice gate on the Chewuch River, allowing water to flow into the canal and down to shareholders.

“It’s a dry year,” said Brian Larson, a local orchard manager scrambling to fix a water pump before new trees arrived for planting. “Water is everything.”

A few miles away, the Smiths were coaxing sheep into a neighbor’s pasture.

“We graze on all irrigated pasture. Without that, we wouldn’t have food for the sheep,” Casey Smith said.

To him, water is a community resource. It galls him that someone would try to remove the “lifeblood” from the place he loves.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in five to 10 years. Having water will be increasingly valuable as the climate here gets warmer, drier and hotter,” he said. “One of the things that surprises me is that anybody that would be from this community, and embraces their community, would try to sell their water rights to someone far away.”

Like others, Rowatt fears water sold away will be removed from the Methow forever because it’s more valuable for agriculture in prime growing areas that can produce a higher yield for each acre.

“To sell out water and dry out an agricultural community to line the pockets of investment bankers, yeah, that bothers me,” he said.

Water, a public resource, shouldn’t necessarily go to the highest bidder, Rowatt said.

Peterson says the community misunderstood.

The application reflected the Lundgrens’ historic water claim, not the amount of flow Crown hoped to utilize, he said. Leaving water in the stream would help Chewuch River fish, he said. Water deposited with Crown could be leased or purchased by valley residents, too.

“If they wanted to preserve a community asset, this is the way to do it,” he said.

He balked at concerns over Crown’s private-equity backing.

“To say that somebody coming from New York with money must inherently be a bad thing ignores the realities of everyday life anywhere in America,” he said.

Earlier this year, Don Lundgren, who was attempting to sell the water right, told a reporter he did not understand the interest in his water deal and declined to make further comment.

“Aggressive acquisition”

As Crown pursued water, the Ecology Department grappled with its acquisitions.

The department’s Office of the Columbia River, whose mission is to aggressively pursue water solutions and find new supply for the basin, approved the company’s original trust water rights agreement in 2016.

Peterson credited Tom Tebb, the office’s leader, for helping develop his concept.

“We’re trying to facilitate the movement of water to its highest, best use,” Tebb said.

Other parts of the agency have closely scrutinized Crown’s water transfers, overturning local water decisions that were favorable to Crown. Ecology also opposed parent company Crown West Realty in court when it attempted to place millions of dollars of water into trust from wells at another of its real estate holdings, a Spokane industrial park.

Crown’s activities have stirred internal debate within Ecology.

“Overall, I think it is not a good sign that our Trust/Banking programs attracted Wall Street attention,” wrote Ying Fu, of the agency’s Spokane office, in an email thread about Crown Columbia’s Methow deal. Fu expressed concern that profits would be made on water held in “state sponsored ‘banks.’”

Dave Christensen, Ecology’s water resources policy and program development manager, last winter commissioned the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy to study water marketing.

“We are hearing (and have) concerns that continued aggressive acquisition and marketing will cross the threshold into outright speculation (if it hasn’t already gotten there),” Christensen wrote in a memo to staffers.

Christensen said in August the agency was investigating whether the trust water-rights program was contributing to potential speculation or being used for purposes outside of the Legislature’s original intent to improve stream flows and to allow water-rights reallocation. The department also is evaluating water banking, he said, and would make policy recommendations on the programs next year.

Jewell, the policy adviser for Washington’s counties, said he grew concerned over how water markets were operating in his last job as a Kittitas County commissioner. In his county about a decade ago, as development boomed, local, private water markets were able to command high prices without much competition. Jewell helped the county start its own water bank to compete and lower prices. He said the Ecology Department needs to be more proactive as companies acquire and consolidate resources.

“Ecology has really been a spectator in watching these water markets develop, and I honestly think pretty naive, in not taking a more active role in managing the system,” Jewell said. “If they don’t get ahead of this developing market, they could find themselves on the outside looking in pretty quickly.”

Dust settles in the Methow

Perhaps it’s the Methow’s beauty that has protective valley residents spoiling for civic showdown.

“There’s a history in the Methow of organizing,” said Rob Crandall, a canal shareholder who operates a nursery for native plants. “You’re not going to steamroll us.”

“That’s their happy place,” Peterson said with an eye roll.

The community has doomed many a development project with serious financial backing, perhaps because the projects had serious financial backing.

In the 1970s, valley residents fought plans for a ski resort.

Over decades, opponents wore down the Aspen Ski Co., ran a Bellevue group out of $12 million and town, too, and then boxed out a developer who had pivoted the ski project to a 560-home resort and golf course.

The project was ultimately doomed over water rights.

Once again, Methow residents rallied. Dozens turned out to local meetings about the Lundgren transfer. The canal company hired a Harvard-educated Winthrop lawyer, Natalie Kuehler, to object for her “fiercely protective” community.

Kuehler found the Lundgrens’ original claim was not filed with Ecology until 1998. She wrote to the department, arguing the claim was junior to the canal and the river’s instream flow rule, which is essentially a water right for the river itself.

Ecology agreed, making the water claim much more likely to be restricted.

“The monetary value took a deep dive,” Kuehler said.

This August, more than 14 months after Crown applied to put the Lundgren water right into trust, Crown pulled out.

“The Chewuch Canal Company did win this battle,” Rowatt said. “The issue is not over. Crown Columbia and people like them are trying to buy up every drop of water they can and move it out of the valley.”

McCrea is now pursuing statewide legislation to restrict the ability to transfer water out of local watersheds, which could foreclose Peterson’s dreams of a water market spanning much of the state.

As the climate warms, few forecast water decreasing in price. But more than money is on the line when bets are made on its future.

Information from The Seattle Times’ archives is included in this report.

Yakama and Lummi Nations Call for Removal of Three Columbia River Dams


Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director,Columbia Riverkeeper


Today I stood on the Columbia’s shores at Celilo Park and watched history in the making. Yakama Nation, supported by Lummi Nation, announced a bold vision: a Columbia River teeming with salmon, a restored Celilo Falls, and a Pacific Northwest powered by clean energy that does not drive salmon and orca to extinction. Yakama Nation Chairman Jode Goudy stated: “The Columbia River dams were built on this false legal foundation [the doctrine of discovery], and decimated the Yakama Nation’s fisheries, traditional foods, and cultural sites.”

Salmon—and the people and orcas that depend on salmon—are in crisis. Today the Yakama and Lummi nations called on federal leaders to remove the John Day, The Dalles, and Bonneville dams. Columbia Riverkeeper stands in solidarity with Yakama and Lummi nations. We respect the tribes’ rights to advocate for and defend treaty rights, including today’s vision of a free-flowing lower Columbia River.

For Columbia Riverkeeper, it comes down to this: the decades-long effort to recover endangered salmon is not working. The Columbia River is too hot for salmon survival. The stagnant reservoirs behind the dams create dangerously hot water. Climate change is pushing the river over the edge. Year after year, the river gets hotter. The system is broken.

Dam removal is a complex issue that will require intense analysis and must ensure solutions for clean and reliable electricity and transportation. In the decades ahead, I’m confident we can replace the dams with truly clean energy, transport cargo to ocean ports, and save salmon runs from extinction. What about flood control? The three lower Columbia dams are “run-of-the-river” dams and do not provide significant flood control, unlike large storage dams in British Columbia.

Re-powering the Pacific Northwest with wind, solar, and battery storage will create local jobs for decades. This transition will take time, and it’s smart to start planning today. It may have been heresy to say this 40 years ago, but hydropower is not clean energy. It is destroying salmon runs, orcas, and cultures that depend on salmon. And it’s not cheap anymore; wind and solar are becoming more affordable than electricity from dams. In this age of extinction and climate change, we must take bold action.

When was the last time you were asked to imagine the unimaginable? Imagine a free-flowing Columbia coursing through the Gorge. Imagine record salmon runs returning year after year. Imagine the roar of Celilo Falls, which some still remember.

As you let today’s historic announcement sink in, join me in embracing Yakama and Lummi Nation’s callto consider bold, new ideas. Just imagine.

Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director

Source: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgxwDrlWvMcFrzpRLrMzGVCCZWwJF

Washington state Lewis County fight against water bottler

As a member of Columbia Riverkeeper, we thought you’d appreciate this story of corporate greed and community resistance.
Big kudos to the people of Lewis County who are taking on Crystal Geyser and winning!

Email goof leaks corporate playbook

Columbia Riverkeepers

It’s rare to get a glimpse inside the multinational corporation playbook, but water bottling giant Crystal Geyser lays bare its strategyif the local community does not support its extractive project, bring on the astroturfing and extortion!

Crystal Geyser purchased land to build a controversial water bottling plant on the Cowlitz River in Randle, WA. Chief Operating Officer, Page Beykpour, intended to send a strategy email to the CEO, Ronan Papillaud, but instead emailed the local paper. The Daily Chronicle, like any good media outlet, published the email.

The COO emailed his boss to say, “As this project stands, it is dead because the opposition has successfully convinced officials and media against us.” That’s right. Residents organized to protect their community and the Cowlitz River, including an inspiring grassroots effort by the Lewis County Water Alliance. Instead of respecting the community and moving on, the COO laid out three strategies.

  • Strategy 1: Beykpour wrote, “Hire a PR firm solely for the purpose of gathering grassroots supporters.” 
    Translation: Nobody likes our project so let’s buy support.

    Buying fake grassroots support is astroturfing. In case his CEO was not familiar with this old chestnut of a corporate strategy, the COO gave him a primer. “Once we have gained enough people, we mobilize them in the same fashion as the opposition (reach out to County officials, media, governmental agencies). Along these lines, I’ve already lined up local contractors and their subs to gather their employees.”

  • Strategy 2: “We sue the subdivision [next to the proposed bottling plant] for their damage to the aquifer due to irrigation and septic system failures. Hopefully, this gets them to the table and they are prepared to have an open minded conversation . . . .”
    Translation: We have a lot of money to pay high-powered law firms to bring baseless lawsuits to intimidate the neighbors. Make no mistake. This is extortion—trying to obtain something through threats and intimidation.
  • Strategy 3. “A combination of one and two.”
    You can’t make this up!

    This astroturfing and extortion approach is disgusting. Crystal Geyser provides a raw look at corporate greed and contempt for local people. If you have millions of dollars you can hire a PR firm to manufacture support. This may include buying advertising, creating scholarships, and sponsoring the little league team. Crystal Geyser’s “sue the subdivision” strategy is dark and cynical, but also not surprising. The COO writes they have “nothing to lose” in putting the neighbors through this painful lawsuit. Perhaps Crystal Geyser’s lawyers will alert their clients it is unethical to sue people for the purpose of intimidation. Don’t count on it. These same lawyers threatened to sue the Chronicle “for all damages affordable by law” for printing Mr. Beykpour’s email, stating incorrectly “it is against the law for you to print it.”

Crystal Geyser, which has bullied other towns, is obviously bad at this—they missed the memo that you’re supposed to line up support before you announce the project. But many other corporations have perfected this dark art. Here on the Columbia River where I work, fossil fuel companies are targeting communities with refineries and shipping terminals for coal, oil, and fracked gas. When big polluters roll in, our cities and towns are at a huge disadvantage. The corporations have slick lobbyists, a squadron of attorneys, and consultants who give all the right answers. They do the rounds with local politicians. First they get everything lined up, then they announce the project to the public.

The best way to protect our communities and rise above this tactic is through strength in numbers. By joining a local environmental group, you are standing up to protect clean water and local voices. You are empowering real grassroots organizers and community members to engage in our democracy at the local level, where all is not lost yet. And unlike Crystal Geyser’s embarrassing gaffe, non-profit organizations are proud of our playbooks. In fact, we shared our playbook in our last newsletter.


Lewis County Board of Commissioners voted August 5, 2019, to impose a moratorium on permits seeking water extraction in rural Lewis County and certain standalone food and beverage manufacturing applications — much to the appreciation of a large gathering of Lewis County Water Alliance members who have fiercely voiced their opposition to a proposed Crystal Geyser water bottling facility in Randle.

Randle Town Hall Draws Strong Turnout to Oppose Water Bottling Plant

Scores of cars lined either side of U.S. Highway 12 Wednesday evening, spilling over from the full parking lot at the Randle Fire Hall. Inside the building, close to 250 people packed into the meeting room, with dozens more listening to an audio speaker stationed outside.

The attendees came from all over the Pacific Northwest, but most were local to Randle or East Lewis County. Nearly all were there to register their opposition to the proposed water bottling facility that Crystal Geyser hopes to build on its newly purchased property along the Cowlitz River

“This could turn out to be a very, very long dilemma,” said Wes Randle McMahan. “We have to stay involved, and we can’t just rely on a few people to do it. It’s got to be all of us.”

McMahan is the great-great grandson of James Randle, the town’s founder. He recently moved back to the area and lives about a mile from the proposed plant on 807 Peters Road. Like many nearby residents, he’s concerned about noise, pollution, truck traffic — and the disturbance of the way of life in the quiet, rural valley.

The hall was filled with local residents, members of the Cowlitz Tribe, fishermen, elected officials and environmental activists from throughout the region. Many held signs that said “Water is Life” and registered boisterous opposition at any mention of Crystal Geyser’s plans.

Craig Jasmer, who led the town hall, said he purchased a property nearby just days before he learned Crystal Geyser was planning to build a plant. He first got wind of the proposal when he heard the noise from the company’s exploratory drilling.

“Crystal Geyser has not published any public notice on this,” he said. “This corporation, if any of you have Googled Crystal Geyser, I think you’ve found they’re not very reputable.”

Crystal Geyser — the better-known moniker for the company CG Roxane, an affiliate of Japanese-based Otsuka Pharmaceutical — is proposing to build a 100,000 square foot plant on the 80-acre lot it purchased last month. That building, about the size of a Walmart, is one many feel would be out of place in the largely undeveloped valley, surrounded by forested mountainsides.

County commissioner Gary Stamper said he met with Crystal Geyser representatives in April, asking them why they had chosen the Randle site rather than an industrial park.

“I am not a person who takes this stuff lightly. All of your concerns are my concerns,” he said. “This is an anomaly, because we’ve never had anything like this. (Industrial operations) always come to the ports. … This site is a bad site.”

The crowd thanked Stamper for listening and sharing his perspective, though the county has not yet received an official permit application on which it could take a stand.

County manager Erik Martin also shared with the crowd, outlining what the permitting process might look like if Crystal Geyser applies to build the facility with the county. Though the bureaucratic procedures are largely very technical, Martin said the input of locals — especially as it relates to the project’s fit in the community — is still of great importance.

“I have to say wow, because projects just don’t get this type of support and involvement from the community,” he said. “It matters, it really does. Thank you all for coming.”

According to Martin, the county’s only contact from Crystal Geyser has been a letter sent from chief operations officer Page Beykpour on June 17. Beykpour said the company is continuing to “explore options,” and if the Randle property is not the “chosen site,” it plans to sell it or convert it to another use.

The company has obtained a preliminary permit from the state for exploratory drilling and a test well. The results of that testing will help determine whether it can procure a withdrawal permit, with which it hopes to extract 400 gallons per minute from springs on the property.

Some at the meeting said their concern is the facility’s effect on the aquifer and the watershed. Many worried that wells would go dry, river flows would diminish and water temperatures would increase.

“These salmon and steelhead that are in this upper Cowlitz are (Endangered Species Act) listed,” said Greg King, vice president of the Friends of the Cowlitz nonprofit fishing advocacy group. “If they don’t have any water, they’re not going to make it. … This aquifer is huge, but those fish need every drop.”

Greg LaDue-Grove, a member of the Cowlitz Tribe, said the waters of the Cowlitz River watershed have sustained life in this region for thousands of years.

“Now it’s your responsibility too,” he said. “I see people here like me that have grandkids. What will you leave them? … I’m so happy to see so many of you standing up, and I hope you’ll continue past this.”

Many of the speakers thanked the tribal members for attending, noting that their presence adds strength to the alliance opposing the plant. Teri Graves, another Cowlitz member who spoke, said she had seen the Cowlitz Glacier recede while working as a ranger at Mount Rainier National Park. The community support, she said, was a welcome show that the tribe is not alone in this fight.

“I look at this room and I see allies, and I’m so grateful for you guys,” she said. “We are so honored that you are allies with us.”

Others joined the event with their own stories of opposition to other proposed bottling operations in the Northwest. Advocate Julia DeGraw was among the leaders who fought Nestle’s efforts to build a plant in the Columbia River Gorge. The key, she said, is joining the battle early, because it’s difficult to stop an operation once it’s underway. The turnout for the town hall was cause for optimism, she added.

“You are so poised right now in this moment to win this fight,” she said. “I’m really excited to see this level of organization and momentum. … This is a political decision. Your political leaders can say no, and that’s what we’re here to ask.”

Deanna Busdieker, a former city councilor in Cascade Locks, Oregon, shared her story of working to block a proposed bottling operation in her town. Her message was simple.

“Give them as much hell as you can,” she said.

Fred Suter, vice chair of the Loo Wit group of the Washington chapter of the Sierra Club, said the organization has taken notice of the fight in Randle — which has drawn similar concerns to a proposed mine nearby along the Green River.

“I’m amazed that everyone is coming together here,” he said. “This is an amazing group.”

Many at the meeting discussed the most productive ways of opposing the plant. The Lewis County Water Alliance, a group leading efforts to block the development, collected fundraising dollars and asked people to join its Facebook page. Jasmer handed out a fact sheet on the process, and opponents were urged to contact the Washington State Department of Ecology to weigh in on the withdrawal permit. To obtain the permit, Crystal Geyser must show that the development is in the “public interest.”

Meanwhile, Martin said any county permitting would go through a hearings examiner — who would also take into consideration the concerns of the community.

“Under that process, you can write letters, you can send emails, you can appeal,” he said. “You can also come to the hearing and talk to the hearings examiner himself about what you thought about it.”

Some noted that concerns about the aquifer — while legitimate — might not be able to demonstrate enough scientific certainty to sink the project. What’s more obvious is how fundamentally the plant would change the nature of the rural area, where residents value the views and the quiet, and kids ride their bikes along the little-trafficked road. Keeping pressure on those concerns, they noted, might be the most viable legal path to blocking development.

Regardless of strategy, the sentiment of opposition was nearly unanimous Wednesday evening, as was the united community spirit demonstrated by the turnout — an impressive crowd for any town hall, let alone one in a tiny, rural area. The sentiment was one of optimism, as speaker after speaker expressed surprise at the number and breadth of supporters who had showed up. King, the fishing advocate, spoke for everyone, drawing loud applause.

“Let’s not lose this,” he said. “Let’s keep our foot on their necks and not let it up.”

The Daily Chronicle Great Lewis County

Source: http://www.chronline.com/news/randle-town-hall-draws-strong-turnout-to-oppose-water-bottling/article_8735810a-99d3-11e9-9ce9-27a05bf6655d.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=user-share&fbclid=IwAR1vNwtQbivwTo_wUrDYgfn1fhGbevBlI2zJ8m7uZDwM_JF0wqPm6P_vT9E

Environmental groups decry bid to reopen troubled mega-dairy near Boardman

July 11, 2019

The new owner of a troubled mega-dairy operation that violated hundreds of environmental rules wants to reopen the facility, drawing fresh opposition from environmental groups.

Washington-state based Easterday Farms requested permission from the Oregon Department of Agriculture earlier this month to house over 28,000 animals on the site of the now-shuttered Lost Valley Farm, according to the Statesman Journal.

Lost Valley opened in April 2017 to supply milk to the nearby Tillamook Cheese factory. State officials allowed the facility to bypass regulatory requirements, citing potential economic benefits it would bring to the area. The dairy was allowed to operate before construction was complete and before submitting an official plan on how to handle millions of gallons of animal waste.

Over the next year and a half, the facility racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for breaking environmental regulations. Over 30 million gallons of manure awaited cleanup when the farm finally closed in February.

Easterday Farms purchased the operation last spring, and agreed to a cleanup plan with state regulators. Owner Cody Easterday did not respond to the Stateman’s Journal request for comment. It’s unclear how the farm would handle the estimated 173.3 million gallons of solid and liquid manure produced by the cows each year.

Environmental and animal welfare groups decried the prospect of a new mega-dairy, calling on the state’s Department of Agriculture to reject Easterday’s bid to reopen the site.

“The Lost Valley site is still polluted with millions of gallons of waste and has cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of taxpayer dollars to bring into compliance with the law,” read a joint statement from groups including the Humane Society and Food & Water Watch. “Allowing a new mega-dairy in an area with existing groundwater pollution, water scarcity, and air quality issues will only exacerbate these public health, economic, and environmental harms.”

If reopened, the facility would become Oregon’s second largest dairy operation. The proposed permit to reopen the site will be open to public comment and a hearing.

— The Associated Press

Source: https://www.oregonlive.com/environment/2019/07/environmental-groups-decry-bid-to-reopen-troubled-mega-dairy-near-boardman.html