Speak up for Wilderness and Recreation in the Enchantments

A proposal to replace an aging dam could have negative impacts on wilderness and recreation in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. We encourage you to learn more about the proposal and our concerns, and use the public comment period to make your voice heard.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
January 22, 2021

One of Washington State’s most beloved wild places - the Enchantments, located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness - could be impacted by a proposal to replace an aging dam. The Washington State Department of Ecology recently announced plans to replace the Eightmile Lake Dam in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The plans raise concerns about appropriate actions in a protected wilderness area and impacts on recreation.

As Mountaineers know well, the Enchantments is home to pristine alpine lakes and towering peaks - a prime destination for hiking, backpacking, scrambling, backcountry skiing, and climbing. The Enchantments is one of the most visited areas in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and its overnight permits are highly coveted by recreationists in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Eightmile Lake and the Eightmile Lake Dam is located within the Enchantments Permit Zone.  The trail to Eightmile Lake also provides access to Eightmile Mountain, Lake Caroline, and Cashmere Mountain. 

We’ve taken a close look at how the plan would affect outdoor enthusiasts and highlighted some of our concerns below. We encourage you to learn more about the proposal and use the public comment period to make your voice heard. You can use our petition below, or comment through the Department of Ecology's website.  You have through February 1 to submit comments. 

Speak Up

Background

The Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation Districts (IPID) owns and operates a 90-year-old dam on Eightmile Lake, located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. As a result of flood damage and erosion caused by the impacts of the 2017 Jack Fire, a state of emergency was declared and IPID made emergency repairs to the dam. The Department of Ecology’s Dam Safety Office designated the Eightmile Lake Dam as “high hazard” for failure and a threat to lives and property downstream. IPID is required to repair the dam to current safety requirements or remove the dam. 

The Department of Ecology is beginning an environmental review of plans to repair and restore the Eightmile Lake Dam, and is currently accepting comments on what should be included in the scope of an environmental impact statement (EIS). The proposal is also part of a larger strategy to address water supply issues in the Icicle Watershed, which The Mountaineers has written about before

TWS Eightmile Lake.JPG

Eightmile Lake and eightmile lake dam. Photo courtesy of the wilderness society.

Our Concerns

Our primary concerns center around the proposal’s impacts on wilderness and recreation. 

Unprecedented Actions in Wilderness

The proposal includes the option of overland transport of heavy equipment and materials through wilderness. We oppose driving construction vehicles in and out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness as it would cause lasting negative impacts on the environment and the outdoor experience. To comply with the Wilderness Act, all machinery needed to reconstruct the dam should be flown in by helicopter. We’re also looking into other precedent-setting aspects of the proposal, such as whether the dam reconstruction requires Presidential approval and additional federal environmental permits.

While not expressly covered by this scoping process, we’re closely watching for any proposals to reconstruct other dams in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The Office of Dam Safety recently classified the dams at Colchuck, Lower Klonaqua, and Square Lakes as “high hazard.” These lakes are much further into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and reconstruction would be even more detrimental to wilderness values. 

Here at The Mountaineers, we believe designated wilderness is a core tool in protecting the outdoor experience, and that honoring this designation is key to protecting our public lands. Wilderness areas include some of our most beloved areas for hiking, climbing, scrambling, and backcountry skiing. The designation protects the wildlife habitat and ecosystems that makes our outdoor adventures so special.

Impacts on Recreation

We are also concerned about impacts on outdoor recreation. Dam reconstruction could cause lasting negative impacts to the trail and campsites around Eightmile Lake. The environmental impact statement must address these issues, as well as impacts to recreation during construction. We’d like more detail on trail closures, trailhead and parking impacts, and construction staging areas. The proposal must also outline mitigation strategies that help avoid long-lasting disruptions to recreation in the project area. 

How to Speak Up

Make your voice heard by signing our petition, which gives you the opportunity to add additional comments. The Mountaineers will be submitting your messages to the Department of Ecology on February 1. Alternatively, you can  also comment through the Department of Ecology's website.

Speak Up

Main photo of eightmile lake in the winter. photo courtesy of brian hill.


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Tess Wendel
Tess Wendel says:
Jan 22, 2021 10:33 AM

To whom is this petition being sent?

Betsy Robblee
Betsy Robblee says:
Jan 22, 2021 02:31 PM

Hi Tess, we will compile all of the signatures and individual comments from the petition and submit them to the Department of Ecology on February 1.