Usable water is at a critical point for the Lake Chelan Valley

by Richard Uhlhorn

Water rights:

“If they want to process that application, anyone below them would have no water,” stated DOE’s Candis Graff regarding water quantity in the Lake Chelan basin. “It has dwindled to a critical point.”

The City of Chelan Public Works department has a water right application in for 3,800 acre feet which if applied and approved would stop the processing of any water right application below that request.

Marcie Clement, Chelan County PUD, told Graff that she would like to meet with her regarding the remaining acreage available.

Mike Kaputa, Chelan County Natural Resources director, stated that there needs to be a recalculation or re-estimation of water availability. “How many more applicants are there on Lake Chelan?” Kaputa asked. Graff replied approximately 13.

Mike Kaputa

“Is there some sort of re-calculation,” asked Kaputa. Graff replied that the remaining amount surprised her. Clement stated that there is a reserve set aside with the Department of Ecology. “There are three of us – the City, County and PUD that need to find time to get together with us.” Kaputa added that the Lake Chelan Reclamation District needs to be added at some point to the discussions.

Andy Dunn, RH2 Enginnering, said that future demand was projected out 70 years. Regarding water right applications, Dunn stated that just because there is an application requesting large amounts of water doesn’t mean that the applicant would be issued that amount. “That’s a big number on an application but not necessarily coming out of the reserve.”

If the City and/or other agency were to request a large amount of remaining water rights, and it was approved by the DOE, the remaining applicants, i.e. developers and others would be out of luck unless they could find a water right to purchase from a current water right holder.

Water quality:

“We are trying to understand why we are getting more algae growth,” reported Phil Long, director of the Lake Chelan Research Institute.

Phil Long – Lake Chelan
Research Institute

The near shore ecology in the lower Wapato Basin has changed drastically since 2014 despite an increase in water clarity and normal oxygen levels. “Very few lakes have this stability,” sail Long. However, Long remarked that there is an emerging threat worldwide with algae growth and algae blooms. Long is planning to survey various locations on the lake where algae growth is prevalent.

One of the major issues on the lake this past year is the increasing population of water fowl; geese and ducks. Long reported that Campbell’s, the Lookout, Lakeside Lodges & Suites and Wapato Point have helped fund potential remedies to the water fowl issue.

Geese in particular, deposit large quantities of poop on docks and lawns which get either washed off or swept off into the lake which adds to the “green grass/green bottom” issue. Long said, “Tom Gormley at Lakeside Lodges & Suites said the problem is pretty daunting.” Wapato Point, being a part of the Colville Confederated Tribes land have a water fowl management plan that includes legal hunting.

Long stated that on Lake Washington, goose feces are swept into bags and disposed of.

Stormwater management:

Long brought up stormwater issues and said hydrocarbons were entering the lake from parking lots. “We need some infrastructure funding to help filtrate these systems,” stated Long.

“A long skinny lake makes it challenging.”

Keep it Blue:

Lisa Dowling, a water resources specialist with the Chelan County Water Resources department, reported that mobile voluntary watercraft inspections will be available this coming year on weekends and during water related events like the Hydrofest.

Lisa Dowling
Boat Inspection/Decomtamination unit.

If a watercraft is found to have invasive species on it, a decontamination unit will be brought in to decontaminate the vessel before it is allowed to launch into Lake Chelan.

Driftwood is becoming another public safety issue on the lake. “It is not a new issue,” said Dowling. “It is a potential risk to public safety.”

Long replied that on Flathead Lake, driftwood was not allowed to be removed. “You would have a fight on your hands,” he said. “I appreciate the public safety aspect.” Long went on to remark that driftwood on the shoreline helps with keeping shoreline erosion down.

Back story: After the 70’s wildfire on Lake Chelan, the PUD entered into a contract with my company, International Marine Divers, to remove the massive amounts of debris that flooded the lake creating a huge public safety issue for recreational boaters. We hired a group of college kids for the summer and they effectively remove tons of driftwood, large and small from the shores of Lake Chelan. It was piled up at Old Mill Bay and eventually burned by the PUD.


Long reported that the Research Institute is focused on other ways to find funding that is available now, not in the future.

Kaputa reported that the fish tissue sampling report is due to be released in 2023. The tissue sampling of Lake Trout is to determine the amount of DDT and other toxins are present in the fishes flesh. Long replied that Mysis shrimp are also high in DDT concentrations.

Marcie Clement reported that the Fishery Forum consisting of representatives from the National Park Service, Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife and the PUD have been working on the 2023 fishery work plan which should be released in February or March.

Acting Chelan District Ranger, Paul Willard reported that the District is not proposing any new projects in 2023 but is still working on the Phase II Holden Mine remediation proposal. “We are developing options for the second phase.”

Paul Willard – acting District Ranger

Willard was asked how the settlement negotiations were going on the Holden Mine remediation. Willard replied that the District was waiting to meet with Rio Tinto. “We have nothing definitive at this time.”

This coming summer, Willard stated that the District will be working on shovel ready projects like fuel breaks just up lake on the north and south shores. “We will be taking public comment on these projects in the next several months.

For more information on how you can keep Lake Chelan pristine go to and volunteer your time

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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