September 30, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Preserve Bend’s water source

Oct 03, 2011

September 30, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Preserve Bend’s water source

Preserve Bend’s water source

By Jeff Eager
Published: September 30. 2011 4:00AM PST

In Bend, we are blessed with an abundant supply of some of the finest drinking water in the United States. Our water comes from two sources: yearly, about half from groundwater, pumped to the surface with wells; and about half from Bridge Creek, originating from springs high up in the Cascades.

For almost 90 years, Bend residents have put the water they have gotten from Bridge Creek to good use, drinking it, bathing in it, and, of course, brewing beer with it. The water from Bridge Creek is the type of water you want for drinking: clean and cold. Better yet, because the water is diverted from Bridge Creek around 1,000 feet higher in elevation than Bend, it does not need to be pumped, saving money. The Bridge Creek water source is a tremendously valuable asset for our community.

Unfortunately, federal regulations, risk of fire in the forest around Bridge Creek, and deteriorating old transmission pipes require investment to preserve this asset. The current estimate of the cost to make the necessary improvements is around $68 million, including a hydroelectric facility, which is a revenue generator. This cost will be paid by ratepayers in the form of increased water rates during a time when few can afford to pay more.

Given the high cost of the improvements, some have suggested that it would be better to abandon the Bridge Creek source and rely exclusively on groundwater. Originally, I was inclined to agree. When revenue projections for the surface water project changed, I asked staff to provide the council with a new alternatives analysis based on the new numbers. I was, frankly, searching for a reason to avoid the expenditure that will be required to retain the Bridge Creek source.

Having weighed the arguments and analyzed the data and projections of the alternatives, however, I have come to believe that it is critical to Bend’s future to maintain its dual-source water system for the following reasons:

First, the Bridge Creek source provides a reliable supply of water via proven water rights, a precious combination. Bend owns, on behalf of its ratepayers, rights to divert water from Bridge Creek. Were Bend to abandon that source, there is a grave risk that Bend would be unable to obtain rights to replace the supply with additional groundwater. In fact, one of the environmental interest groups urging abandonment of the Bridge Creek source earlier this year lobbied against legislation extending the program which allows for development of new groundwater rights in the Deschutes Basin, claiming that the program harms the Deschutes River. Abandoning proven Bridge Creek rights for uncertain and likely contested groundwater rights would be irresponsible.

Faced with similar choices, other water providers have opted for two sources. The City of Portland, faced with the same federal regulatory requirements as Bend, recently decided to upgrade its Bull Run surface water system.

The Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB), currently a sole-source water supplier to Oregon’s second-largest metropolitan area, has spent large sums attempting to develop a second source of water. EWEB and other water providers strongly urged Bend to retain its dual-source system.

The city of Prineville has struggled in recent years to develop sufficient groundwater supplies to grow its struggling economy. One of the obstacles to economic growth in Prineville is the availability of water, in part because Prineville relies on groundwater only and must fight tooth and nail for new groundwater rights. Bend has enough economic problems; we should not add lack of water to the equation.

Second, even if Bend could obtain sufficient groundwater rights to replace the Bridge Creek source, the cost of the new infrastructure and electricity to pump the water out of the ground would be more expensive than making the investments needed to the Bridge Creek source. Bend’s analysis shows that the groundwater-only option would be at least $350 million more expensive over the next 50 years.

Third, abandonment of the Bridge Creek source, with the attendant risk and cost, is not the best means to achieve the laudable goal of increasing flows in Tumalo Creek (into which Bridge Creek flows downstream from Tumalo Falls) and the Deschutes River. Far more water can be left in stream more cheaply by continuing to strengthen partnerships with environmental, agricultural, tribal and municipal interests, who have a proven track record of results that have led to increased flows in many of the rivers in the Deschutes Basin.

Bend should preserve the dual-source system that has served it well for generations.

Jeff Eager is the mayor of Bend.

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

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