November 4, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Bend water system upgrade approved

Nov 05, 2010

November 4, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Bend water system upgrade approved

Bend water system upgrade approved

By Nick Grube / The Bulletin

Last modified: November 04. 2010 7:19AM PST

Bend city councilors gave their support to a multimillion-dollar upgrade to the city’s Bridge Creek water system that could increase rates for customers by 37 to 45 percent over the next five years.

Councilors made the decision despite some last-minute misgivings of some individuals who were concerned about the environmental impacts to Bridge Creek.

Some members of that group also felt the cost estimates for the project were too high compared with an all-groundwater option.

The decision means the city will upgrade surface-water capacity and also continue to use groundwater or wells.

For the most part, the city councilors’ decision to move forward with the project hinged on energy cost savings over time because the Bridge Creek system relies on gravity and doesn’t require pumping as much groundwater.
The idea that the city would have two water supplies also seemed to play a significant role in the decision.

“I think it would be crazy to give up a dual source,” Councilor Tom Greene said.

The only councilor to vote against the project was Jim Clinton, who said he wasn’t prepared to make a decision that had such high costs without having more assurances about the future health of Tumalo Creek, into which Bridge Creek drains.

“I think we’re heading down a path that involves a cost that is too high,” Clinton said during a break in the meeting. He added that increasing the city’s ability to take more water out of Bridge Creek narrows the possibility that the water will be conserved in the future.

“People can make assumptions about what they intend to do, but in 50 years ... if the capacity is there and the water rights are there, there will be pressure to use it,” Clinton said.

He echoed what some residents were concerned about, and many of them urged the councilors to delay a decision on the surface water project until they had a chance to hear the thoughts of a contingent of people who came up with what they said was a cheaper alternative.

This alternative was a switch to all groundwater, and, according to those who wanted to share their plan, it would have cost a fraction of the cost of the surface water project.

“I’m not worried about a legacy. If it takes two months and can save $34 million, let’s take a look at it,” said Andy High, vice president of governmental affairs for the Central Oregon Builders Association. “Yes, it’s late to the table. But also, we had enough questions with what’s been proposed.”
High is one member of a diverse group of individuals who wanted to meet with city officials before Wednesday’s meeting to discuss the costs and benefits of surface water versus groundwater.

Other individuals who were invited to that meeting included the president of Avion Water Co., the developer behind Bend’s Old Mill District, and representatives from a number of conservation organizations, such as WaterWatch, Central Oregon LandWatch, the Deschutes River Conservancy and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. Local attorney Bill Buchanan was the organizer of that proposed meeting.

The city’s plan to upgrade its Bridge Creek system could cost between $54.7 million and $73 million depending on a range of options related to water treatment and whether to include a hydropower plant to generate green energy. Councilors will make decisions on these options during meetings in the coming weeks.

The city needs increased capacity to handle growth. It also must upgrade its water treatment to comply with federal requirements.

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

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

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