December 10, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Bend must address residents’ water project concerns

Jan 10, 2012

December 10, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Bend must address residents’ water project concerns

Bend must address residents’ water project concerns

By Jack Holt
Published: December 10. 2011 4:00AM PST

The $68.2 million surface water improvement project has been presented to the community as the only way to assure long-term water supplies for the city.

However, a highly informed group of citizens has presented overwhelming evidence challenging its economic feasibility (including huge rate increases), pointed out questionable assumptions, challenged its effect on conservation and shown a total lack of community support.

The Bend City Council must address the many points raised as outlined below:

• Staff consistently recommends the same “solution” to expensive and unnecessary upgrades to Bend’s drinking water regardless of new facts and information since this “problem” bubbled up about five years ago. The water question has been part of “planning” documents for many years, with Environmental Protection Agency action triggering the current effort.

• Three stated motivators for the project are fire hazard, pipe condition and EPA regulatory directive. However, all three motivators are resolved with well water and only at issue with creek water.

• Costs estimates have been so extreme, volatile and “shaped” as to be suspect. While the motivation for these wild swings are open to conjecture, it questions the accuracy of a $68.2 million estimate.

• Dual Source water rights are in question. What can the city of Bend do to preserve creek water rights? Is current use the only way to preserve those rights? Why have Redmond and Sisters leased their water rights? What does the state or Deschutes River Conservancy say about this issue? No city response.

• “Keep it local” is the mantra from the city. The three engineering firms that are engineering, directing public relations, designing and potentially overseeing this project are from California, Nebraska and Florida. What are city engineers doing and what could local engineers be doing? This is not rocket science.

• To what degree was the option of well water as Bend’s primary source of water considered? Originally, a private investor was required to make the hydro option “pencil”; none found. Financial feasibility message delivered! Where are the credible UV vs. membrane filter comparisons? Engineers are going to evaluate what staff directs them to consider. Apparently they have been limited to the “solution,” not the best options.

• Annual rate increase estimates are 7 to 10 percent for 10 years; potentially double. And after that? No response. But you’ll pay that every month through your rent, utility billing or retail price pass-through.

• How objective is the advice given to the staff and forwarded by staff to council by those engineering firms standing to profit most from the SWIP? None of these “stakeholders” are spending their own money. Folks, the money they are playing with is yours.

Citizens seeking a halt to critically evaluate this project have come forward because they’re vested in Bend and care for the community. I don’t think that’s in dispute.

The list includes people from finance, economics, engineering and public water systems fields, not to mention seven ex-mayors and a prior chair of the city Budget Committee.

Public testimony that I have heard in front of the council and the Planning Commission has been overwhelmingly opposed to approval of this project in its current form. Nobody opposing SWIP that I’m aware of will benefit personally by putting this on hold and reconsidering the council’s previous decision.

Those asking for re-evaluation, while not hired engineers, understand budgets, employ common sense and can separate the fly poop from the pepper.

Given the way this has rolled out, you can only conclude it is city business as usual and any thought that this is the most prudent decision based on objective fact-finding is unrealistic and irresponsible. Time to remember those fiscally responsible campaign promises.

So what happens if we put this on hold? Nothing.

We have 145 percent more well capacity than our highest daily use in 2011.

It’s time for our councilors to take charge, put their pants on and go to work for the folks that elected them.

— Jack Holt lives in Bend.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2011

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