Bend tries to change water usage

July 6, 2013
Bend tries to change water usage

Councilor suggests pilot program to conduct more nighttime irrigation

Every day from 6 to 8 a.m., much of Bend wakes up, takes a shower and prepares breakfast. Meanwhile, many irrigation sprinklers water lawns and gardens across the city.

It's a daily routine for many people. But to keep this routine running smoothly requires a lot of planning by city public works and engineering employees.

It has also required significant investments over time, to ensure the city has plenty of water available and the infrastructure necessary to transport that water during the peak morning and evening hours.

City Councilor Sally Russell recently pitched an idea to smooth out these peaks in water usage and potentially extend the life of the city water system, through a pilot program that would charge major water users a lower rate for water during the night and early morning. Tom Hickmann, Bend's engineering and infrastructure planning director, said the idea makes sense, although the city would need to determine whether it works financially to charge a lower rate.

“So what happens now is you really stress the (water) system," Hickmann said. “During those peak periods, you're using a huge amount of water."

Russell's idea would smooth out water usage “so you don't have such a big differential there," Hickmann said. “By doing this, you end up reducing your capital investment needs, or actually deferring your capital investment."

Hickmann said the city does not face another major investment in its water system for a while after the $68 million Bridge Creek project, which will replace the current water intake facility and two old pipelines with a single new pipe. One of the pipelines is roughly 90 years old, and the other is about 60 years old. The city hopes to begin the project this fall.

If the city and Bend Park & Recreation District proceed with an irrigation pilot project, it would likely start with one park. The goal would be to determine how much revenue the city will lose if it charges a lower rate for water used during the night and early morning, Hickmann said. A pilot project could help the city get an idea of the impact before spending money on a water rate study.

If the pilot project works, perhaps it could expand in the future to encompass other major water users, such as the Bend-La Pine Schools, Hickmann said.

Mike Duarte, landscape manager for the park district, said the agency already irrigates at night and during the early morning. “If you see water going in the day it's because we're doing irrigation checks," or someone vandalized an irrigation system and it is malfunctioning, Duarte said.

The district generally begins watering between 9:30 and 11:30 p.m., and most major irrigation systems turn off by 7:30 a.m., Duarte said. Some exceptions are Drake Park and certain other parks, where only a few of the large sprinkler heads can operate simultaneously due to the limited amount of water available. As a result, it often takes at least 10 hours to irrigate Drake Park during hot weather, Duarte said.

Irrigation also occasionally stretches longer during dry, hot weather such as the recent heat wave. The park district irrigation system is controlled by computers that change the amount of water based on weather data.

“In general, we're the best water user in town," Duarte said. “We're a large water user, but we're also smart with what we do." In addition to city water, the park district draws irrigation water from the Deschutes River, its own wells and Avion Water Company, Inc.

Meanwhile, the irrigation pilot project is not the only water initiative Russell is developing. Russell said she is also meeting with representatives from local breweries to explore whether brewery wastewater could be used for irrigation, although she said it is too early to say which businesses she is talking to or any details of a potential program. Gray water systems take wastewater, often from washing machines and showers and never from toilets and kitchen sinks, and reuse it to water lawns and gardens. Russell envisions something similar for brewery wastewater.

“With a really dry year coming upon us, water is going to be more and more valuable in so many ways," Russell said. “So it makes sense that a community in an arid community looks more carefully at ways of using gray water."

— Reporter: 541-617-7829,

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