The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has basically been stealing water and killing fish in Icicle Creek, according to a complaint recently filed in federal court by Wild Fish Conservancy and Harriet Bullitt, who owns the Sleeping Lady Mountain Retreat Center on one side of the creek and lives in an old family property on the other. The FWS diverts water from the creek into a 4,000-foot man-made channel ”for various beneficial uses,” the complaint explains, “including to recharge the aquifer that supplies the [Leavenworth National Fish] Hatchery’s groundwater wells, to attract Hatchery fish for broodstock collection, to flush Hatchery smolts, and for flood control.”
Bullitt and WFC (formerly Washington Trout) have sued the FWS, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department, and the Leavenworth Hatchery, alleging that the agencies have violated state water and fish passage laws, and the federal laws that require compliance with them. The feds have allegedly violated the law by, among other things, “failing to apply for and receive a permit or other authorization for diversions of water from Icicle Creek at the Hatchery’s dam 2,” and “failing to maintain fishways on the Hatchery’s structures, including dams 2 and 5 and the water intake system, in an effective condition and by failing to continuously supply such fishways with sufficient water to freely pass fish.”
Bullitt, who published Pacific Search and Pacific Northwest magazines, and chaired the executive committee of the King Broadcasting Company board, is the last surviving child of King founder Dorothy Bullitt, who bought land beside Icicle Creek in the 1930s. The hatchery is built on land acquired from Dorothy Bullitt. Harriet Bullitt owns some 350 acres beside the creek. She remembers the creek as it was before the hatchery. There were “deep pools. I used to go in under rock overhangs." Sometimes, in the pools, she would “see great big fish.” There were plenty of fish. “We used to go out and catch trout for breakfast.”
That all changed after the hatchery was built around 1940 to mitigate the destruction of salmon fisheries by Grand Coulee Dam. The hatchery takes in water through a 31-inch pipe located a mile and a half upstream. (It also takes water from Snow Lake, on the main trail to the Enchantments, and from the wells.) The headgate dam diverts water into the man-made channel above the hatchery. Dam 5 can block the creek below the hatchery, sealing off a one-mile stretch of the natural channel. “The Hatchery’s diversion of water . . . significantly dewaters [that] natural channel of Icicle Creek,” the complaint says.
Salmon are placed in holding ponds before they're released. At one point, these ponds were created by three small dams placed in the partially de-watered channel of the natural creek. In 1979, the hatchery stopped using the ponds, but left the dams. Water got into the old channel only during high-flow periods when it spilled over the headgate.
Deprived of water, Bullitt says, the old natural channel “gradually became more and more of a marsh.” A neighbor, Dick Rieman, recalled in an affidavit for a WFC suit now on appeal: “The original, natural channel of Icicle Creek was choked with sediment that had accumulated behind the abandoned dams and was evolving into a one-mile-long wetland.” As the creek got shallower, Bullitt “kept wondering why they wouldn't open the gates.” She asked hatchery managers, but “they wouldn''t tell me. . . . they just never opened the gates.”
Rieman co-founded an Icicle Creek Watershed Council to work on getting the gates open and the creek restored. Bullitt soon joined. In 1998, they invited WFC executive director Kurt Beardslee to a meeting. The Watershed Council “was aware that the Hatchery was in violation of the” Endangered Species Act, Rieman recalled. “We also knew the Hatchery was in violation of state law.” However, the council wanted to avoid court. “Council members mistakenly thought that the USFWS would view the restoration of Icicle Creek and opening up 24 miles of main stem Icicle to migrating fish as a high priority.”
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!