December 14, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Committee says Bend should stay with its water plan
Dec 15, 2010
Committee says Bend should stay with its water plan
Call for change lacks compelling evidence, panel members sayBy Nick Grube / The Bulletin
Published: December 14. 2010 4:00AM PST
Most members on the City of Bend’s newly formed Infrastructure Advisory Committee don’t think the municipality should reverse course on a planned $73 million upgrade of its Bridge Creek water system.
That project, which includes replacing about 10 miles of pipeline west of Bend, building a new water treatment facility and possibly a hydropower plant, has been criticized lately.
Some believe the overhaul is too expensive and doesn’t take into account the impacts to stream flows in Bridge Creek’s tributary, Tumalo Creek.
Instead, those opponents have asked the city to consider switching to an all-groundwater system that would rely on existing wells. They claim that could save up to $60 million on initial costs and leave more water in Tumalo Creek for fish.
On Monday, the infrastructure committee held a meeting to hear the argument for groundwater, and ask questions of a wide variety of experts, including representatives from the Deschutes River Conservancy, WaterWatch of Oregon, Tumalo Irrigation District and a number of city-paid consultants who attended the event.
After about three hours of back-and-forth discussions, the committee members, for the most part, discounted a switch to an all-groundwater system, saying there wasn’t enough compelling evidence to support such a change.
Bend attorney Bill Buchanan, who has spearheaded the groundwater effort, said he was disappointed by the committee’s decision as well as with the format in which it chose to conduct the meeting.
He said he had prepared a presentation that outlined the issues he wanted to discuss, but was never afforded the chance since the meeting basically took the form of a moderated question-and-answer session between the committee members and those in the audience.
“I’m still looking for the opportunity to present some really important issues that I didn’t get to,” Buchanan said. “I think there’s room for a win-win improvement for the ratepayers, conservation interests and business interests.”
In general, committee members said it was too late for the city to start looking into other options because of impending federal clean water mandates. They also said there are too many uncertainties involving water rights to risk giving up a dual-source system that relies on both Bridge Creek and Central Oregon’s underground aquifer.
The Infrastructure Advisory Committee is a seven-member citizen committee charged with reviewing the city’s upcoming infrastructure projects. It has only had a handful of meetings. It is made up of a number of individuals with backgrounds ranging from law to engineering to geology. Former city engineer Michael Magee is on the committee.
“I don’t sense a groundswell of support by the ratepayers against this project,” said committee member Casey Roats, who is the vice president of one of Bend’s two private water systems. “It just would not be prudent for the council to put this project off any longer.”
Bend officials say they have already studied a number of reports that analyze the difference between groundwater and surface water. The most recent was prepared by HDR Engineering Inc. — the firm the city hired to do the design work for the project.
Reconstructing and improving the surface water system could save more than $400 million over the next 50 years, the firm reported.
Much of the savings would come from reduced energy costs for not pumping wells. There would also be the possibility the city could generate revenue from a proposed hydropower plant it wants to include in the project.
In a Nov. 30 memo to the City Council, City Manager Eric King wrote that while a new comparison of surface water and groundwater could bolster confidence in the proposed project, the delay caused by such an analysis could carry a number of risks.
2012 federal mandate
He estimated a new study could cost between $100,000 and $500,000 and delay the completion of construction by one to two years, from 2014 to either 2015 or 2016.
The city must upgrade its surface water system to meet federal clean water mandates by 2012, though officials say they can get a two-year extension on that deadline from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
King also wrote that delays in the project could cost an additional $4.5 million to $5 million because the city would not be able to coordinate its work with the U.S. Forest Service and Deschutes County for the reconstruction of Skyliners Road. The way the surface water project is designed now, the city wants to run about 10 miles of pipeline under the new road.
Committee member Andy High, who is the vice president of government affairs with the Central Oregon Builders Association, was the only person Monday to suggest a new analysis of an all-groundwater system, saying that HDR had a “little skin in the game” when it performed its study.
He said his main concern is for the ratepayers who could see their bills go up by as much as 45.5 percent over the next five years to pay for the surface water improvements, and he thinks enough questions have been raised to warrant a delay in construction.
“To me, the EPA is not a concern,” High said. “I still believe the analysis should be done. That doesn’t mean I’ll support it. I just think it should be done.”
The Bend City Council will receive a report Wednesday from Infrastructure Advisory Committee members about Monday’s meeting.
Nick Grube can be reached at 541-633-2160 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010