January 6, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Bend to fix Tumalo's muddy flow

Jan 07, 2011

January 6, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Bend to fix Tumalo's muddy flow

Bend to fix Tumalo's muddy flow

DEQ asks city to ensure sediment discharges into Deschutes tributary don't happen again

By Nick Grube / The Bulletin

Last modified: January 06. 2011 7:15AM PST

The city of Bend could face enforcement action from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality if officials here can't fix a glitch in the municipal water system that occasionally dumps large amounts of sediment into Tumalo Creek.

Last week, the DEQ sent a letter to the city urging it to find a solution to the sedimentation problem in the creek, and asked the municipality to come up with changes that could be implemented to ensure it doesn't happen again.

While that letter didn't indicate the city would face fines or any other actions for not complying with the state agency's request, DEQ Eastern Regional Water Quality Manager Eric Nigg said enforcement could eventually occur should the water system continue to discharge sediment into the Deschutes River tributary.

“What we've asked them to do is operate in a way where this doesn't happen,” Nigg said. “We are trying to get this stopped, and that's kind of the primary focus. The city has been cooperative, and we hope that they can prevent this from happening again.”

The discharge of sediment comes from a series of pipes and ditches the city uses to put excess water it takes from Bridge Creek back into Tumalo Creek when there isn't enough demand in town to use it all.

For the most part, this excess water is clear when it is diverted back into Tumalo Creek from the Outback Treatment Facility about two miles up Skyliners Road west of Bend.

But several times a year, the culverts and ditches near the treatment facility become clogged with debris — sometimes from beaver dams — or get overwhelmed when more water comes through the system than the diversion pipes can handle.

When this happens, the water spills out of the ditches and around the pipes, cascading down a steep embankment and causing a significant amount of erosion along its way to Tumalo Creek. That then turns the normally clear water of the creek to a muddy brown.

Nigg said the DEQ has received complaints about this turbidity over the years, but wasn't able to pinpoint the city as the culprit until a Bend resident who was jogging through Shevlin Park took some pictures and video of the sedimentation and submitted them to the state agency.

The DEQ performed a field inspection of the city's water system early last month, and has now asked the city if it's feasible to make some minor changes to its operations.

Some of these changes include whether the city should install some sort of device to reduce the amount of debris that clogs its infrastructure or if it should partner with Bend Parks & Recreation to inspect the ditches and culverts to ensure there isn't anything blocking them. Other slight alterations the DEQ wants Bend to explore is whether it could install an alarm system to notify city staff about possible clogs or if it should implement a training program that outlines clear procedures for managing and preventing future overflows.

“We expect to get some kind of response by the middle of the month and then develop some type of plan,” Nigg said. “We believe they can probably, through a combination of maintenance and planning their operations differently, keep the water in the pipes.”

According to Heidi Lansdowne, the project manager for Bend's Water Division, the city has already increased its monitoring and cleaning of the overflow ditches and culverts, and has included these into a “standard operating procedure” document.

She said the city is also in the process of setting up an alarm system that will help notify staff members about possible overflows over the weekends when inspections normally do not occur.

“The problem of the overflow at Outback is being addressed now,” Lansdowne said. “The problem of the overflow at Outback will also be addressed when we do the surface water project.”

The city's approved $58 million upgrade to the Bridge Creek system should remedy the overflow issue because it will include a new pipeline and intake facility that can limit how much water is diverted to only the amount that is needed to meet demand in the city.

That overhaul will also include a water treatment facility and a possible hydropower plant that could increase the overall cost to $73 million.

City Manager Eric King said the city is now working on its official response to the DEQ's letter and expects to have something to the state agency in the coming weeks. For the most part, he said all the questions the DEQ asked seemed appropriate and are things the city “should do anyway” to be proactive in preventing future overflows and turbidity in Tumalo Creek.
“It all seems reasonable,” King said. “Those are all steps that we are committed to taking.”

Nick Grube can be reached at 541-633-2160 or at ngrube@bendbulletin.com.

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