19. May 2022 · Comments Off on Ag and Rural Caucus Call to Meeting, May 2022 · Categories: Committee News, Recent Events

Ag and Rural Caucus Call To Meeting, May 2022

The Methow Valley: Tradeoffs in Managing Rural Growth
Time: May 19, 2022 06:30 PM
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The Methow Valley: Tradeoffs in Managing Rural Growth

Lorah Super, Methow Valley Citizens Council
Simon Wendell, Housing Solutions Network

Katie Haven, Okanogan County Democratic Party Chair

Crown Columbia…not a soft drink – or whiskey

Are water rights a “public resource stewarded by the state,” or private property? If water is a free good, then it will be over-consumed. So should not water be allocated by a market where it is moved to the highest and best use, as determined by the price offered?  Water banks that would disperse water rights per bid price would seem to be efficient market mechanisms.

We think that we have moved past this neo-liberal prescription. We think that water is a public resource conditionally loaned to private users for the benefit of society. Except that we have this peculiar notion of “first in time, first in right” which hardly satisfies any criterion of public benefit.

Interesting, but what does this have to do with the Methow Valley? Just this. Crown Columbia Water Resources LLC has filed a trust water agreement with DOE to create a water bank using all the waters of the Columbia River: “The points of diversion and places of use will be within all Water Resource Inventory Areas that drain to the Columbia River.” The Methow flows to the Columbia, as does virtually every other drainage east of the Cascades. And the Methow Valley Citizens Council has fought back an early attempt by Crown Columbia to buy Methow water.

We are addressing water Thursday evening in the Methow, and then again next month we take up water right adjudications in the Yakima and Nooksack, where we go to the fundamentals of water rights.

Gateway Communities

We have framed the Methow Valley as a gateway community: Mazama, Winthrop, Twist, and even Carlton and Methow. Gateway because is it a first stop for Puget Sound traffic coming over the mountain seeking recreation, second homes, retirement and investment. The land use, water and housing problems of gateway communities follow the seasonal flow of people and persistence of their dollars. Commerce for restaurants and hotels, uptick in real estate values, and the excitement of new ideas can overwhelm what attracted visitors in the first place, and wreak lasting changes in human and natural resources.

The Methow is not the only gateway community. I was visiting Glenn Rudolph in Roslyn the other day and he described Roslyn-Cle Elum as a gateway community with rampaging housing development. Leavenworth certainly qualifies. I hope someone from Leavenworth joins our conversation.  Leavenworth seems to have limited the durable effects of hosting extraordinary numbers of day-trippers. Is this impression correct?

Stretch gateway a bit and we are all gateway communities, whether it is soaring housing prices, purchase and sale of our water rights, corporate purchase of farm land, siting of windmills on our hills and solar farms on our crop land, consolidation of food processing and meat packing…we are all exposed to economic changes affecting land use, water, and housing. The question is how we steer avarice and economic muscle into positive economic and social growth that meets the values and needs, of all of us.

The Methow Valley is a good place to start this exercise. Their impatience with their success is still an inspiration for the rest of us.

Early Winters ski resort – Legacy?

 When the snow and rain of the past weeks have given me an excuse, I have been reading murder mysteries. My favorite writer finds the roots of today’s crime in grievances going back generations.  Likewise, when I talk to my friends in the Methow they reach back nearly fifty years to help me understand today’s issues of land use, water and housing.

What began in the mid-1970’s was an epic contest to define the future of the Methow.  The Aspen Ski Corporation found above Early Winters Creek in the upper Methow “the best potential destination ski resort in the United States.”

The Freestone Inn up the road from Mazama is all that is left of a very ambitious development project. Not quite, though. The other legacy is the community engagement that ultimately stopped the development.  The key here is the Methow Valley Citizen’s Council. And Lorah Super is their program director. I will leave the Early Winter’s story to her to tell, if she chooses. She may even hesitate to label the story a completed tale.



We are conflicted about growth in our communities. We are flattered that “outsiders” may like us. And we profit by it. Outsiders’ tax dollars flow to our towns and counties. They keep our restaurants afloat. Local grocery stores get a bump up. Artisans find customers for their creativity. Jobs are created. If you hold real estate, you like outsiders to bid up houses and land. Even Democrats like outsiders who disrupt the political balance when they vote Puget Sound values.

On the other hand, growth through tourism is a chimera. Part-time minimum wage jobs do not build families. Available housing gets bought up as vacation homes, or VRBO properties. Local workers get priced out…they commute from over the hill in order to service privileged tourists. We suspect we are liked because we are cheap, though maybe “inexpensive” is a better word. Our farms, our viewscapes, and our water are for sale.  Puget Sound sees us as a quaint colony of rustics with profits awaiting smart investors.

Both these pictures are descriptive. Growth has its tradeoffs. Growth brings benefits and exacts costs. Too often our rural communities are overwhelmed and we spend our energy playing catchup or simply venting.

Our meeting Thursday 19 May features the Methow Valley. The Methow Valley is perhaps our most experienced community in anticipating outside interest and doing its best to manage rural growth. Join us to learn their lessons and cautions. There are both. There are tradeoffs.

Credit Katie Haven for our program. Katie lives on her farm near the town of Methow and is chair of the Okanogan Democrats. She has recruited Lorah Super and Simon Windell  to walk us through the challenges of managing growth in a gateway rural community.

Katie has forwarded several links that the community has found useful in understanding rural growth:





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