by Richard Uhlhorn

In 1925 Chelan Public Utility District received water rights to Lake Chelan for the purposes of using it to generate power. In 1992 a memorandum of understanding agreement was made between the PUD and Department of Ecology for 65,000 acre feet of water for existing and future domestic and irrigation uses.

IMG_1406 -Keep it Blue

All that remains of the 65,000 afy of the Lake Chelan Reserve is 5,243 acre feet. However, 13,144 acre feet have been applied for.

The Lake Chelan Watershed Planning Unit and the Department of Ecology are looking for solutions to fulfill the remaining requests which will include batch processing of water right applications by a state approved contractor at a cost of $5,000 to $15,000 per water right depending on the number of acre feet requested. The costs would be shared by the applicants to keep the costs down with no guarantees of future water availability.

Water right applications, by law, are processed in the order they are received. Water right applications have been sitting in Ecology’s office for a number of years with no funding to process. Enter the Lake Chelan Watershed Planning Unit who have been working diligently with Ecology to come up with a plan to begin processing these applications.

Venessa Brinkhuis, Water Resources Specialist with the Department of Ecology game the Lake Chelan Watershed Planning Unit a detailed presentation on Lake Chelan Water Supply Solutions at the Unit’s meeting on December 12.

Vanessa Brinkhuis, Water Resources Program Contracts and Grant Specialist, at Ecology’s Watershed Planning Unit, presented the newest iterations on the plan which includes restarting the Lake Chelan Coordinated Cost reimbursement Program in 10-application phases 2019.

Ecology and Chelan County will also be rolling out a new pilot, and novel, program to for small domestic uses which will cover the Lake Chelan drainage basin. This program will be called a General Permit Process and will offer a less expensive option for domestic users requiring less than 1 acre foot of water for a domestic connection and 3.5 afy for each irrigated acre. “Everything that drains into the lake would fall under this program,” said Brinkhuis. “Domestic uses are pretty small,” she added.

The County and Ecology also recognize that there are a number of illegal users pumping water out of the lake without a permit. “They will be required to obtain a permit,” said Brinkhuis. “It’s a pretty unique program and a great place to pilot this and move forward.”


Mike Kaputa, Chelan County Water Resources Director remarked how difficult water rights issues are in the Lake Chelan Basin.

Mike Kaputa added that the agencies are trying to figure out the details of a General Permit Process.

Ecology and County will also be looking at several other options to add to the 5,243 acre feet per year remaining on reserve. This could come through repurposing or purchasing existing water rights not being used.

The average daily water use as calculated by the City of Chelan is 335 gallons per day. Bear Mountain Water District has a combined domestic and irrigation use of 433 gallons per day and Manson is similar to Chelan.

The current water duty for Irrigation includes 3.33 afy for lawns; 1.90 afy for grapes; 2.91 to 3.15 afy for tree fruit. Lake Chelan Reclamation District manager Rod Anderson remarked that the district pumped 80 percent of their water right this year. “That is pretty similar to last year,” he said.

Kaputa remarked that these are tools with some potential but, “We need to recognize how difficult these issues are.”



Steve Nelson, RH2 Engineering, gave an overview of the ongoing Lake Chelan Water Quality Monitoring Program.

Steve Nelson, RH2 Engineering, recapped the last two years of water quality monitoring in Lake Chelan. “We have focused on the Wapato Basin,” said Nelson. They have done some monitoring in the southern part of the Lucerne Basin also.

“We have been looking at a profile at 1 meter, 10 meters and 20 meters down in the water column,” Nelson stated. The program is being conducted by the Lake Chelan Research Institute on a monthly basis. The monitoring sites are in the lower, middle and upper regions of Wapato Basin. Monitoring is taking place between May and September.

LCRI is also taking samples out of the Stehekin River and Railroad Creek in the upper basin. Both are the major drainages flowing into the lake. They are also monitoring water at the Chelan Dam.


Phil Long (PhD) updated the group on Secchi Disk measurements that have been taken over the years. 

The monitoring also includes Secchi Disk visibility. Phil Long, director of the LCRI, stated that visibility has been monitored in the spring, summer and fall. He explained that visibility is less in the spring when glacial sediment flows into the lake. It is also affected by plankton blooms and becomes better as the year goes on.

The monitoring is an important aspect to keeping an eye on the ecological health of the lake.


Author: allthingslakechelan

I have been a journalist, photojournalist and reporter in the Lake Chelan Valley since 1988; first with the Wenatchee World, then 15 years at the Lake Chelan Mirror and another 12 years at GoLakeChelan. Currently, I am semi-retired but can't give up the media gig which is why I started All Things Lake Chelan blog. I also have two social media platforms; allthingslakechelan/facebook and lakechelansportsandrecration/facebook. I am also a professional photographer with many credits with major outlets around the world.

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