December 27, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - City of Bend must move forward with surface water project

Jan 03, 2011

December 27, 2010 -  Bend Bulletin - City of Bend must move forward with surface water project

City of Bend must move forward with surface water project

By Mark Capell / Bulletin guest columnist

Published: December 27. 2010 4:00AM PST

This column is written on behalf of four Bend city councilors, Kathie Eckman, Jodie Barram, Tom Greene and Mark Capell.

When voters elect city councilors, they expect them to make decisions that are in the best interests of all residents now and well into the future. Recently, the Bend City Council made some historic decisions that will help guarantee all of us a safe, clean and reliable water supply for decades.

We voted to keep our Bridge Creek water source. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it was the right one. A few vocal critics wanted us to abandon our quality water supply from Bridge Creek and use only groundwater. That view is extremely shortsighted and, in the end, would have cost you, the rate payer, millions of dollars more.

These critics wanted us to step back and study the issue. Well, we have. In fact, very thoroughly. Over the past 30 years, the city has actually done three different studies, which involved several engineering firms and experts to look at the issue. Their conclusion? Each and every study said the same thing: Do not abandon that water supply because it’s an irreplaceable asset for the city. They say having two sources of water (Bridge Creek and groundwater) is smart, less expensive over time and more reliable. We agree, and after 30 years of study, it’s time to move forward.

We now have to reinvest in the infrastructure that delivers the world-class water from Bridge Creek to you. Our latest estimate puts the cost for the required components of the project at about $58 million, not the $73 million figure you’ve been hearing. There are some options, such as a hydropower plant, that may push the cost to $73 million and generate revenue that will ultimately offset future rate increases. However, they are just that, options. The City Council has not voted on that part of the project yet.

What does the $58 million reinvestment in our Bridge Creek infrastructure buy? First, it replaces the two pipelines that bring the water into the city. These pipes were built in the 1920s and 1950s, and, as you can image, are not in good shape or up to today’s standards.

It also buys a water treatment plant required by federal regulations. We have to treat our Bridge Creek water by 2012, which is another compelling reason to move the project forward now. Other cities have spent millions of dollars fighting these regulations and failed. In addition, the new treatment plant will protect our water supply from the effects of a wildfire. Right now, debris from a fire would shut down our Bridge Creek water supply.

We simply can’t wait any longer.

Yes, city water rates will increase to pay for this project. We don’t like raising rates. But this is one of those hard decisions that must be made now for the long-term benefit of the community. Having a reliable water system is a key component for jobs and economic development. We all know that is critical for the success of the city now and in the years to come.

As we embark on this project, we will always keep the health of Bridge Creek, Tumalo Creek and the entire Deschutes Basin in mind. In fact, we always have. Bend is a key participant and leader on watershed issues. From the award-winning Waterwise program, to groundbreaking roles in the Deschutes Water Alliance, Bend continues to support scientifically based, balanced, consensus-driven solutions to water-related natural resources issues. Even with this new project, there are limits on the total amount of water the city can divert from Bridge Creek. In addition, the new infrastructure will allow us to enhance stream flows, not harm them.

When you turn on the tap at home, you expect a reliable flow of clean, cold water. When our fire department tackles a fire, it expects a reliable water supply with sufficient pressure. Thanks to our decisions today, you, your kids and even your grand-kids will enjoy that same expectation. For many, many years, the city held off on water rate increases.

The issues of aging infrastructure we face today are a result of that. Can we afford to let that trend continue? The answer is obviously no.

Mark Capell is a member of the Bend City Council.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

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