Environment officials want input on aging Central Washington dam

State leaders are seeking comment on repairing Eightmile Dam in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Eightmile Dam, shown here in May 2018, was in need of emergency repairs at the time. Now a plan — and the environmental review — for a permanent fix is underway, with public comments due in February 2021. (Washington Department of Ecology)

The environmental review of a 90-year-old dam in Central Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness will start soon. Eightmile Dam is considered a threat to people and property downstream near Leavenworth.

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Now, the public has an opportunity to comment on the environmental review of the aging Eightmile Dam.

The issue traces back to 2017, when the Jack Creek Fire burned. Subsequent flooding and erosion caused water to flow over the earthen top of the dam. 

The Icicle and Peshastin irrigation districts quickly repaired the damages. Now, the districts, along with the state’s Dam Safety Office, plan to repair the dam and bring it up to current safety standards.

Eightmile Dam sits in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (near the popular Enchantments hiking area), which isn’t supposed to have man-made structures. But it was built before the wilderness area was designated. The Alpine Lakes Protection Society has expressed concern over rebuilding old dams in the watershed.

“Rebuilt dams will allow for a dramatic increase in the amount of water to be extracted from the Wilderness lakes,” Rick McGuire wrote in the group’s newsletter earlier this year.

Late in the summer, the dam releases supplemental water to mitigate low flows in Icicle Creek and for irrigation. Icicle Creek supplies water to Leavenworth and the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery.

The Washington Department of Ecology wants to know what to look in to as it studies options to rebuild the dam. Are there questions about what it could mean for the watershed, fish and people who rely on water from Icicle Creek? The public can give comments through Feb. 1, 2021.

Comments are accepted online or via mail: Department of Ecology, Central Regional Office, Attn: Melissa Downes, 1250 West Alder St., Union Gap, WA 9890.

The department is hosting two remote public meetings from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, and from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21.

A final environmental impact statement is expected by the end of 2021.

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