Bend revises water plan

Nov 14, 2012

Bend Bulletin

Bend revises water plan By Hillary Borrud

Bend officials announced a new strategy Tuesday to obtain environmental approval for the $20 million Bridge Creek water intake facility and pipeline project.

The current city proposal would allow Bend to take more water from Bridge Creek after the project is built. But that plan stalled after opponents sued in federal court to overturn the permit issued for the project by the U.S. Forest Service permit.

Under the plan announced Tuesday, the city will submit a new proposal to the Forest Service that maintains the current cap on city water withdrawals from Bridge Creek, said Mayor Jeff Eager. If the city wants to take more water from the creek in the future, it would have to offset that impact, Eager said. This often involves purchasing water rights from other agencies or individuals.

Mayor Pro Tem Jodie Barram said city officials considered how the project might impact streams.

“It was important to me as we were looking at the environmental impacts of our project, to know that we take that very seriously here at the city," Barram said.

A federal judge issued an injunction in October that halted the project until the legal issues surrounding it were resolved. In its lawsuit, the nonprofit Central Oregon LandWatch alleged the city and Forest Service failed to adequately consider how the water project might impact fish and wetlands.

Eager said the city’s decision to pursue a new strategy was largely based on concerns raised by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken of Eugene.

LandWatch Executive Director Paul Dewey said Tuesday that the new city plan includes “the same basic problem" as LandWatch saw in the past.

“They can say they’re going to take out 18.2 (cubic feet of water per second) for 20 years or so, but this system is for a 100-year project and so installing carry 36 (cubic feet per second) and saying we’ll just use 18 (cubic feet per second) for the first 20 years doesn’t really answer our concerns," Dewey said.

City officials have said the new pipeline was designed to carry up to 21 cubic feet of water per second, the maximum amount the city proposed to take under its first plan.

The pipeline and intake facility are part of a larger water project that could cost a total of $68 million. Opponents have criticized the project for its cost; some said the city and Forest Service did not do enough to study the potential environmental impacts.

Some vocal opponents of the water project won seats on the City Council in the Nov. 6 election but when they are sworn into office in January, a majority of the council will likely still support the pipeline and intake portion of the project.

One newly elected opponent of the project, Sally Russell, could be sworn into office Monday to take the seat left vacant by City Councilor Kathie Eckman, who resigned last week.

City Manager Eric King said Tuesday the decision to pursue a new strategy to move the project forward is in line with previous votes by the council in support of the water project. Barram said the new city councilors will have an opportunity to help decide what to do about other portions of the water project after they take office.

Eager said the other options available to the city, which included appealing the injunction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or continuing with the U.S. District Court case, would be more expensive and the outcomes more uncertain.

Kevin Larkin, district ranger for the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District, said that although the city’s new proposal will be similar to its previous application, federal regulations require the Forest Service to undertake a fresh review before deciding whether to issue a new permit. The review process might be faster the second time, however, and the Forest Service could reach a decision by early summer, Larkin said.

The Forest Service will also bring in expert Sherri Johnson, who works at the agency’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, to help with the environmental review, Larkin said.

City Attorney Mary Winters said the city could have used a faster Forest Service review process for the new proposal, but that would not have allowed an opportunity for public comment.

“We did decide together that, partly because the project is what it is, that having a longer process with the opportunity for public comment is the better way to go, which brings some consternation because of the timing," Winters said.

Delays are already increasing the project’s cost. If the city cannot install a section of its water pipeline under Skyliners Road by 2014, when Deschutes County plans to rebuild the road in time to qualify for federal funding, the city cost to resurface the road may reach $2.9 million.

“We would hope to begin construction next summer," said City Engineer and Assistant Public Works Director Tom Hickmann. “We have to hit the fall work window."

Hickmann said the city will turn in the new proposal to the Forest Service as soon as possible; Winters said the proposal may be ready in a few days.

If the Forest Service once again issues a permit for the project and opponents still have concerns, the opponents could go through the same appeal processes they used on the first version of the project: an administrative appeal to the Forest Service and eventually a federal lawsuit.

City officials worked Tuesday to put the water project in a more positive light, in response to opponents’ concerns.

Eager and Hickmann said controls designed into the new intake facility would result in the city taking less water from Bridge Creek: as little as 8 cubic feet of water per second during the winter, instead of 18.2 cubic feet per second the city currently takes year-round.

Patrick Griffiths, the city’s water resources manager, said project opponents “didn’t understand the benefits the project was bringing environmentally."

King said the new pipeline and intake facility cost ratepayers only between 85 cents and $1.70 additionally each month, for a total of between $10.20 and $20.40 annually.

Dewey said it was “premature for the City Council to be acting on this before the new City Council takes office."

“We don’t think this really changes the fundamental problems," he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, hborrud@bendbulletin.com

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