In 2005 the two largest ski areas on Mt. Hood expressed an interest in using snowmaking equipment during the 2005-06 season. Both ski resorts applied for additional water rights from the Oregon Water Resourses Department (WRD) for use in snowmaking.
Timberline requested and was granted a limited license to use 120 gallons of water per minute from their existing domestic water source for snowmaking seasonally from November through April. Friends of Mount Hood in comments submitted to the WRD stated that water used for snowmaking should be considered a commercial use, and thus WRD should carefully analyze the impacts to the entire watershed basin due to the high consumptive loss of water that occurs during snowmaking.
Meadows Ski Area submitted a proposal to the Forest Service to install a large snowmaking system during the summer, and applied to WRD for two new water rights for snowmaking. The application to WRD requested:
– a groundwater right to pump 50 gallons per minute from a well during Nov. 1 through March 31;
– a surface water right to extract up to 494 gallons per minute from the East Fork Hood River from Nov. 1 through March 31, subject to leaving a required minimum flow in the stream channel.
The proposal to the Forest Service described a snowmaking system:
– designed to cover about 31.5 acres with snow,
– over 14,000 linear feet (2.65 miles) of pipe buried in trenches to supply the water to the snowmaking guns, and
– a steel tank capable of storing one million gallons of water!
In the scoping letter sent on April 8, 2005, to inform the public of the proposal, the Forest Service stated that it would use a categorical exclusion process to evaluate the proposal. This is a fast track process that is used for projects that the Forest Service regards as having no potential for significant impact on the environment. The process does not require an environmental analysis with public review. Furthermore, there is not a procedure for an appeal of the decision within the Forest Service. The only recourse is to challenge the decision in federal court.
Instead of proceeding with the fast tract evaluation process, Friends of Mount Hood (FOMH) argued that the Forest Service should commence an environmental analysis of the snowmaking project that includes a study of the hydrological impacts of drawing large amounts of ground and surface water for snowmaking.
The scoping letter from the Forest Service regarding the Meadows snowmaking proposal, as well as letters that FOMH sent to the Forest Service and the Oregon Water Resources Department, can be at the following links:
Scoping letter on Meadows’ snowmaking proposal from Daina Bambe, District Ranger of the Hood River Ranger District.
Response to the scoping letter from Chris Winter, an attorney representing FOMH.
Response to the scoping letter from Jonathan Rhodes, an hydrologist.
Letter to Oregon Water Resources Dept. from Ralph Bloemers, an attorney reprenting FOMH.
Talking points for comments on the snowmaking proposal.
In June, the board of FOMH met with representatives from the Forest Service and Meadows Ski Area to discuss FOMH objections to the snowmaking proposal. Discussions that continued during the summer resulted in all parties agreeing that an environmental analysis is to be undertaken by the Forest Service and that the public will have an opportunity to respond to the study before a decision is made on snowmaking. In the meantime, FOMH has stated that it will not object to Meadows using 2 or 3 snowguns with above ground pipes during the 2005-06 ski season if the usage of water by the snowguns is closely monitored.
January 2009 Update
At this time Meadows has not submitted a revised snowmaking proposal. It should be noted that Mt. Hood experienced above average snowfalls during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 ski seasons.